Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and Bilby Street

There’s lit­tle the com­mu­nity can do to stop new de­vel­op­ments pric­ing res­i­dents out of their own neigh­bour­hood.


When Jen­nifer Beamer moved to Bilby Street in 2003, it didn’t re­ally feel like a neigh­bour­hood. “Frankly, it was a neigh­bour­hood I could af­ford to buy a house in,” she says. But even in 2003 the short stretch of sin­gle-fam­ily homes was chang­ing. Over the years the sur­round­ing area has de­vel­oped into the trendy north end dis­trict it is to­day.

As it evolved, Beamer’s street be­came more of a com­mu­nity. She started get­ting to know her neigh­bours. Her kids played with theirs in the street. They walked to school to­gether. The par­ents made BBQ chicken wings and ve­gan na­cho dip for block par­ties in the sum­mer. Last time, one of the neigh­bours brought an LCD pro­jec­tor and a sheet made into a screen so the kids could watch a movie out­side.

Now, Beamer wor­ries about the loss of that “neigh­bour­hood-ness.”

Six multi-unit de­vel­op­ments sur­round­ing the close-knit com­mu­nity have been ei­ther pro­posed or are un­der con­struc­tion. The build­ings range from seven to 18 storeys and will bring about hun­dreds of new apart­ments, con­dos and park­ing spa­ces.

The neigh­bour­hood is chang­ing, whether those al­ready liv­ing there like it or not.

Aside from con­cerns around pedes­trian ver­sus car traf­fic on the nar­row roads, one of the big­gest wor­ries for Bearmer and her neigh­bours is that the new build­ings won’t add any­thing to the char­ac­ter of the fam­i­ly­cen­tric neigh­bour­hood.

The de­vel­op­ments are mostly com­prised of bach­e­lor, one- or two-bed­room apart­ments, “which seem to fo­cus on sin­gle pro­fes­sion­als, or young pro­fes­sional cou­ples with maybe one child,” says Beamer. “But there are only so many of those peo­ple in Hal­i­fax, and there are lots of low-in­come fam­i­lies.”

Home­own­ers and ten­ants be­ing priced out of their own com­mu­nity is noth­ing new in the north end, and Bilby Street ap­pears to be next in line. The block is a hub of in­ner-city con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment. A condo list­ings web­site run by Tradewinds Realty de­scribes it as “HRM’s new­est hot spot in real es­tate gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.”

Cur­rently, HRM’s hous­ing goals in­clude work­ing with de­vel­op­ers, try­ing to steer them to­ward cre­at­ing af­ford­able hous­ing while the city com­pletes the fi­nal draft of its Cen­tre Plan. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity can trade height al­lowances for “pub­lic ben­e­fit,” which can be any­thing from buried power lines to pub­lic art. The new Cen­tre Plan, how­ever would re­quire 75 per­cent of the “pub­lic ben­e­fit” de­vel­op­ers re­ceive from den­sity bonus­ing to go di­rectly to af­ford­able hous­ing.

Deputy mayor Waye Ma­son says HRM doesn’t have the power to make af­ford­able hous­ing de­mands of de­vel­op­ers, but in an emailed state­ment he agrees there should be more af­ford­able op­tions in the ur­ban core.

“We need af­ford­able hous­ing where peo­ple work. We don’t want the core of the city to be a wealthy en­clave and all the ser­vice sec­tor work­ers hav­ing to travel in from an hour away,” he writes.

As it is now, the deputy mayor says when it comes to city plan­ning, “Coun­cil just says, ‘Build res­i­den­tial here,’ and the de­vel­op­ers con­sider what the mar­ket can sup­port.”

The lack of op­tions can be par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing for res­i­dents.

Sakura Saun­ders has been liv­ing in a rented apart­ment with her fam­ily on Bilby Street for years. An an­ar­chist ac­tivist, she’s strug­gled to have her con­cerns heard by coun­cil and a plan­ning de­part­ment she says gives her the runaround.

She was told first that HRM can’t de­mand af­ford­able hous­ing from de­vel­op­ers be­cause the cur­rent Mu­nic­i­pal Plan­ning Strat­egy doesn’t al­low it. But time and again she’s watched coun­cil amend the MPS to al­low de­vel­op­ers more height.

“You have the power to amend it, and in fact you amend it all the time,” she says, point­ing to the spe­cial amend­ments coun­cil ap­proved for the Wil­low Tree tower at Quin­pool and Ro­bie.

Saun­ders is now fa­mil­iar with the bu­reau­cratic shuf­fle that comes with anti-de­vel­op­ment ac­tivism. At first, she gath­ered sig­na­tures for a pe­ti­tion against the rash of con­dos in her neigh­bour­hood. When that wasn’t enough, she held a block party to get many of the same peo­ple to sign again, this time fo­cus­ing on one of the most re­cent pro­pos­als on the cor­ner of Ro­bie and Bilby.

Saun­ders says she sup­ports high-den­sity liv­ing but, “we shouldn’t be ap­prov­ing all these de­vel­op­ments based on an old plan.”

Through the Hous­ing and Home­less­ness Part­ner­ship, all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment an­nounced a goal of in­tro­duc­ing 5,000 af­ford­able hous­ing units in Hal­i­fax by 2022, in­clud­ing 2,000 rental units.

The city’s five-year plan rec­og­nizes the re­gional cen­tre as hav­ing “the great­est num­ber and pro­por­tion of house­holds fac­ing af­ford­abil­ity chal­lenges,” but there are no tar­gets for the ur­ban core when it comes to af­ford­able liv­ing. Those bench­marks are ex­pected to come in the long-awaited Cen­tre Plan.

While she waits, and the build­ings go up on Bilby, Saun­ders says she’ll con­tinue to put pres­sure on coun­cil to not let the city’s growth dis­man­tle the lives of low-in­come res­i­dents.

“I’m an ac­tivist,” she says, “and there’s no way the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is go­ing to meet their goal of af­ford­able hous­ing units if they don’t de­mand it.”


Lo­cals fear that six tall tow­ers will change the Bilby area’s “neigh­bour­hood-ness.”

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