Top News

COLUMN: Affordable housing is a must in Kentville – and beyond

['Wendy Elliott Column']
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 door-to-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 lower-than-market rents in the first phase of development for low-income 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 groundfloor, 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 northend 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 of 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 people for street people or those involved in high-risk behaviors,” 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.

Recent Stories