Af­ford­able hous­ing is a must in Kentville — and be­yond

Valley Journal Advertiser - - OPINION - Wendy El­liott

Op­po­si­tion from the Not In My Back Yard (or NIMBY) crowd in North Kentville seems to have sur­faced re­cently. Ap­par­ently, peo­ple have been go­ing doorto-door rais­ing ob­jec­tions to the pro­posed Open Arms Vil­lage project.

It was about a year ago now that Open Arms de­cided to try and im­prove hous­ing op­tions in the Kentville area. The or­ga­ni­za­tion pur­chased the for­mer Kentville Chris­tian Re­formed Church build­ing and 3.5 acres of land on Oak­dene Av­enue for an af­ford­able hous­ing de­vel­op­ment.

The no­tion was to of­fer low­erthan-mar­ket rents in the first phase of de­vel­op­ment for low­in­come earn­ers. The project was not ear­marked for the home­less, or for tran­si­tional hous­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Open Arms ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor John An­drew, it is very tax­ing on peo­ple to be put in the place of hav­ing to worry about where they’re go­ing to live month-to-month.

He said, “if we can put a dent into that, then we’ve done some­thing very good and we’ll be over­joyed.”

The idea is to help se­niors with low in­comes, work­ing peo­ple and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties with 75 per cent of units. The other 25 per cent of the units would be rented by peo­ple not fac­ing the same in­come chal­lenges.

This kind of in­no­va­tive hous­ing ini­tia­tive is not par­tic­u­larly com­mon across Nova Sco­tia be­cause they are hard to push for­ward. The Peo­ple’s School in Antigo­nish this past spring de­clared that af­ford­able hous­ing is a hu­man right and a com­mu­nity re­spon­si­bil­ity. In this prov­ince, those at­tend­ing the school de­clared, af­ford­able hous­ing is safe, se­cure, so­cially in­clu­sive and bar­rier-free.

As of this year, low-in­come fam­i­lies and dis­abled res­i­dents of Antigo­nish have River­side Es­tates as a new multi-fam­ily build­ing with ground-floor, bar­rier-free apart­ments.

The Antigo­nish Af­ford­able Hous­ing So­ci­ety man­ag­ing the de­vel­op­ment says rent should be no more than 30 per cent of a res­i­dent’s in­come. Ac­cord­ing to the so­ci­ety, no new pub­lic hous­ing apart­ments had been built in the area since 1996, so there were 194 fam­i­lies on a wait­ing list. There are other ex­am­ples, too. A new $1.6 mil­lion res­i­den­tial re­de­vel­op­ment project opened in He­bron, Yar­mouth County last year to pro­vide en­ergy ef­fi­cient, af­ford­able hous­ing to its ten­ants.

Cost-shared by the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral govern­ments through the In­vest­ment in Af­ford­able Hous­ing pro­gram, the $1.6 mil­lion He­bron Heights re­de­vel­op­ment project fea­tures nine units and a bar­rier-free apart­ment for per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties.

It is not easy to pull this kind of project to­gether. Ef­forts this past win­ter to en­cour­age the city of Hal­i­fax to move for­ward on the re­de­vel­op­ment of the old Bloom­field School site seem to have fallen by the way­side.

Sev­eral years ago, Hous­ing Nova Sco­tia wanted to build an af­ford­able-hous­ing project on the 1.3-hectare site, which in­cludes a for­mer north-end school and two other build­ings, but the prov­ince can­celled that plan in 2016.

In Kentville, An­drew is look­ing at a phased ap­proach. A day­care and com­mu­nity gar­dens might be in the plan, but mostly the group wants to pro­vide 40 apart­ments with af­ford­able rent. The need for more af­ford­able hous­ing cer­tainly ex­ists. I’ve been in some atro­cious rental units in North Kentville.

A cap­i­tal cam­paign for the project, which is es­ti­mated to cost in the range of $3 mil­lion, will be re­quired once the de­vel­op­ment works its way through the plan­ning process in Kentville. Hope­fully any mis­un­der­stand­ing of the project won’t per­sist at that point.

“We have en­deav­ored to be clear on printed ma­te­rial, so­cial me­dia and on the forth­com­ing ap­pli­ca­tion that this de­vel­op­ment is not for street peo­ple or those in­volved in high-risk be­hav­iours,” An­drew states.

He notes that af­ford­able hous­ing for se­niors seems to be the most acute need in the com­mu­nity. Un­til the re­cent an­nounce­ment of the CMHC Na­tional Hous­ing Co-De­vel­op­ment in May and in­creased fund­ing avail­able from Hous­ing Nova Sco­tia, he adds, it hasn’t been fi­nan­cially fea­si­ble to pro­vide af­ford­able hous­ing in the ru­ral and smaller towns out­side of Hal­i­fax.

An­drew is hop­ing for wide­spread sup­port on Oct. 9. It seems de­served to me. Af­ford­able hous­ing can make a huge dif­fer­ence in the qual­ity of life for those less for­tu­nate.

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