CBRM approves rejigged affordable housing project in Sydney’s north end

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is going to spend $5 million in federal affordable housing money after all.

Tom Ayers. CBC News ·

Council rejected a proposal from New Dawn Enterprises last month, but has now voted to approve a different project in a different location by the same organization.

New Dawn and the Ally Centre of Cape Breton want to provide housing for people without homes or with precarious housing.

“I am over the moon. I seriously cannot wait to get back to the Ally Centre to tell our folks that there’s hope for housing very soon,” said the centre’s executive director Christine Porter.

The partners initially wanted to put a supported living facility on Stuart Street in the heart of a residential neighbourhood in Sydney, but councillors rejected that last month.

After a huge public protest over fears the federal money would be lost, New Dawn came up with a new proposal.

CEO Erika Shea said the development will go on New Dawn’s property behind the former Holy Angels high school after councillors raised concerns about the former location.

“Interestingly, none of those concerns were raised with us directly from residents, but we have elected to put it literally in our own back yard,” she said.

New Dawn plans to build a 24-unit, two-storey supported living building on the corner of Charlotte and York streets at a cost of $5.2-million.

With council’s unanimous approval, the project will receive $5 million in funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rapid housing initiative.

Shea said New Dawn also has $250,000 from the Reaching Home community homelessness organization.

To qualify for the federal funds, projects have to start by mid-May and be ready to house people within 18 months.

The project is now roughly six weeks behind because of the delay, but Shea said she is excited to get going right away.

Mayor Amanda McDougall said the process has been difficult, but it worked out.

“Less than a month [and] you could possibly see shovels in the ground that will be going towards housing for people who most need it in our community,” she said.

“So at the end of the day, the community benefits and it just, it lifts my heart a little bit.”

New Dawn’s was one of four proposals submitted after CBRM found out it was eligible for $5 million from a CMHC program.

Council took a lot of heat from the community after rejecting New Dawn’s first proposal, which council was told was the only one that met all the federal program’s qualifications. At the time, the mayor and most councillors decided it would be better to send all four back to CMHC to see if the others could be tweaked to become eligible.

After that decision, Shea angrily told media in the council chamber that the municipality lacked leadership.

On Wednesday, a couple of councillors said they did not appreciate the “unprofessional” comments and behaviour, but Shea was not apologizing.

She said CBRM needs 5,000 new housing units by the end of the decade and some people are in desperate need of housing right now.

“What we need in this moment is real leadership and creativity and innovation around the role that municipal government has to play in social issues, issues of poverty and issues of housing,” Shea said.

McDougall said within the next month or so, council will be meeting with Engage Nova Scotia to start mapping out a housing strategy for the community.