CBRM Rejects Proposals to Build New Affordable Housing in CBRM

New Dawn and the Ally Centre were dismayed to learn today that CBRM Council is moving to return $5 million in funding for affordable housing to the federal government.

For Immediate Release

March 7, 2023

(Sydney, NS): New Dawn and the Ally Centre were dismayed to learn today that CBRM Council is moving to return $5 million in funding for affordable housing to the federal government.

In December 2022, the CBRM was awarded $5 million under the City Stream of CMHC’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI).

In each of the three rounds of RHI funding, a select number of cities from across the country are provided with direct funding that ensures that new affordable housing for vulnerable populations will be built in their city. Each city is then responsible for determining how its allocation will be spent.

CBRM was the only municipality on the Island and only one of two municipalities in the province (alongside HRM) to receive a dedicated allocation of RHI monies.

In January, the CBRM issued a Request for Expressions of Interest to which New Dawn (in partnership with the Ally Centre) and three other community organizations responded.

Under the RHI, housing must be targeted to vulnerable populations and rents must be geared to income; rents cannot be more than 30% of the income of tenants and most projects require separate operating agreements, typically with provincial governments, to reach financial sustainability. Housing has to be able to be built and open within 12-18 months of funding being awarded and so proposals need to have relatively advanced drawings, construction schedules, land identification, and operating projections to be considered.

Six weeks after the deadline for the submission of proposals, CBRM Council met in camera for two hours, followed by a brief public meeting.

In the five minute public meeting Director of Planning, Michael Ruus, recommended that Council approve a joint proposal from New Dawn and the Ally Centre to build 20 units of affordable harm reduction housing, that Council provide additional funds from their RHI allotment (beyond what had been requested in the New Dawn-Ally Centre proposal) to increase the number of units from 20 to 24, and that the motion include text that would absolve CBRM of any future liability or responsibility for the operations of the housing.

In a 5 to 4 vote, CBRM Council rejected the recommendation by Director Ruus. Without a viable proposal on which to spend the $5 million, CBRM will have to return the funds to CMHC on March 15th.

Given the prolonged and deepening housing crisis throughout the CBRM, Council’s rejection of staff’s recommendation to fund the construction of 20-24 harm reduction units, and the likely return of $5 million to the federal government for use in another community, New Dawn and the Ally Centre are calling on CBRM Council to hold a public meeting to discuss their rejection of the proposals and rejection of the CMHC funding.

The New Dawn-Ally Centre proposal has been posted publicly on New Dawn’s website to support CBRM Council in having a public, rather than in-camera, discussion of the details of the proposal.

At a Glance

• The Rapid Housing Initiative is a $4-billion program to help address urgent housing needs of vulnerable Canadians through the rapid construction of nearly 15,000 units of affordable housing across the country.

• The CBRM received a $5 million allocation in the third (2022) round of Rapid Housing Initiative funding. They were the only municipality on the Island to receive an allocation.

• Without a proposal to support, the CBRM will return their $5 million allocation to CMHC to be used to build housing for vulnerable populations in other communities in Canada.

• The recent Point-in-Time count of the homeless population identified 259 homeless individuals in the CBRM. This is up from the 137 in 2016 and more than double the 115 identified in 2018.

• New Dawn and the Ally Centre have each served the CBRM community for decades and bring their respective expertise in housing construction/management and services for vulnerable populations to the proposal for new harm reduction units.

• The harm reduction units proposed by New Dawn and the Ally Centre were rent-geared-to-income one-bedroom, accessible units, to be centrally located and – in response to preferences by Ally Centre clients and the need to provide 24-7 onsite staffing to all units – located together. Unlike affordable housing which should be dispersed through the community, supportive housing for very high acuity individuals should be concentrated to enable efficient staffing and the building/rebuilding of a community of residents/clients.

• While the Rapid Housing Initiative also has a Project Stream, CMHC has indicated that applications from groups in the CBRM to the Project Stream are unlikely to be successful, in part because CBRM has been provided with its own allocation through the City Stream.

• Those voting in favour of the staff recommendation include Mayor Amanda MacDougall-Merrill, Deputy Mayor James Edwards, Councillor Steve Parsons, and Councillor Lorne Green. Those voting against the staff recommendation include Councillor Glenn Paruch, Councillor Eldon MacDonald, Councillor Dareen O’Quinn, Councillor Steve Gillespie, and Councillor Earlene MacMullin.