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Wendy Elliott: Affordable housing should be a priority for everyone

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This past winter, Housing Nova Scotia's first multi-unit residential building, constructed to passive house environmental standards, welcomed its first tenants in Hebron, Yarmouth County.  

Wendy Elliott Column

This $1.6-million redevelopment project features eight one-bedroom, plus den units, and a one one-bedroom unit. It also includes a barrier-free apartment for persons with disabilities. The initiative was cost-shared between the provincial and federal governments through the Investment in Affordable Housing program.
Denise Vacon, the chair of Community Housing Options Initiative through Collaboration and Engagement, said at the opening that affordable housing across rural communities continues to be a factor for many people. She was right about that.
Vacon said that the kind of collaborative partnerships that constructed the Hebron building “have a tremendous impact for individuals struggling to afford basic necessities including housing, heat and food. These new units will have a positive impact on our community."
It took federal and provincial partners working collaboratively to make the redevelopment happen and it boasts a high degree of energy efficiency.
The building was retrofitted based on North American passive house standards. Estimated energy consumption - including heating, domestic hot water, and building systems - is at least 80 per cent lower than the standard. An energy-monitoring system was even installed to keep track of the energy savings over time.
I’m optimistic that the new Kings Affordable Housing Project launched recently by Open Arms can get on the rails quickly. Open Arms has purchased 3.5-acres in North Kentville, which is the former Kentville Christian Reformed Church building and grounds.
The intent is the development of adequate and truly affordable housing. Of course, as director John Andrew says, the purchase is a big step of faith, but in operating a shelter for homeless people, he already knows the need is great.
Partners and volunteers will be required - along with a million dollars. Andrew, who sits at Kentville’s town council table, believes the property could handle 40 apartments.
“We envision a place where lower income individuals from all walks of life (seniors, working people and people with disabilities), representing 75 per cent of residents, can enjoy a high standard of living alongside 25 per cent who may not have the same financial limitations,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Halifax, housing advocates have informed the municipality that the city needs revolutionary change in order to create more social and affordable housing.
One community planner told CBC that no new social housing has been built in Halifax since 1993. In fact,
the Housing and Homelessness Partnership estimates that a shocking 20 per cent of Halifax's population cannot afford average rents. Three thousand is the estimated number of new units needed. Halifax regional council is in favour of having 5,000 affordable housing units built in the city within the next five years.
One of the problems is that developers don’t really want to step up and construct affordable housing. Pricey condos are much more attractive to them. Housing is under the provincial umbrella, and as a result, municipal units can only contribute so much. It’s going to take a team approach.
I hope and pray that Open Arms’ bold purchase of that church property will lead to something transformative in North Kentville.

 

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