Thank You

Your calls, e-mails, texts, social media posts, letters to Council, and letters to the editor have helped to secure funding for 24 apartments for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

On behalf of New Dawn and the Ally Centre, thank you for the outpouring of support over the last month. Your calls, e-mails, texts, social media posts, letters to Council, and letters to the editor have helped to secure the funding for the design and construction of 24 new apartments for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Your support has also made it clear that affordable housing matters to our community and that we are an overwhelmingly compassionate people – speaking up and out on behalf of those who are suffering, have been marginalized, and whose voices are often not listened to.

We also want to thank MP Kelloway, MP Battiste, and CMHC for making this much-needed investment of $5 million in the CBRM, and those Councillors who, from the beginning, understood that the New Dawn-Ally Centre proposal met the funds’ requirements and it that it was prudent to proceed, resolving questions and concerns through subsequent conversation, rather than return the funding to Ottawa.

We’ve already begun rolling up our sleeves and digging into building design and construction, picking up on discussions about onsite staffing and programming models, dreaming even more about creating beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces for our neighbours who have been made vulnerable, and infusing this moment with the joy (the jump-up-and-down joy) it deserves.

Reflections on the Process

Although we are glad that the outcome of the Council meeting on April 5, 2023, means that the New Dawn-Ally Centre project can proceed, and much-needed housing can be built, we are left with some unanswered questions about the process we’ve been a part of over the last five months:

First, why was the March 7th Council meeting an in-camera meeting? The rationale provided was contract negotiations, but how much of the three-hour in-camera meeting was focused on discussing a contract?

Could most of that meeting have been held in public – to allow the community to learn more about the four proposals and concerns of Council – going in-camera if and when an actual contract was to be discussed?

While Council can use “contract negotiations” as the rationale for going in-camera, this is an option, not a requirement, and moving discussions of the allocation of substantial public funding to an in-camera format should be done only when absolutely necessary.

Second, in the brief public portion of the March 7th Council meeting, a majority of Council rejected the recommendation of the Director of Planning (that the New Dawn-Ally Centre proposal be approved) and adjourned the meeting. What was the plan, had the community not called for an emergency council meeting?

Why was there not a motion after the rejection of the New Dawn-Ally Centre proposal to bring project proponents in for a discussion with staff and/or council to work through concerns? Why was the best solution after a three-hour in-camera meeting to reject the staff recommendation and adjourn?

We hope that the lessons learned over the last five months lead to significant changes in municipal processes should similar opportunities arise in the future.

Concerning Comments on The Ally Centre

This experience has also raised serious concerns about the ways in which some of our elected municipal officials have spoken publicly about residents in the municipality – residents that they represent in the same way and to the same degree that they represent home or business owners.

This experience has highlighted the urgent need for CBRM Councillors to seek education on addiction, mental health, varying styles of supportive housing, and harm reduction approaches, assuming councillors intend to continue positioning themselves as authorities on these life-and-death issues.

Last year, the City of St. John’s (population 113,000) worked with the federal and provincial governments, private sector, and industry associations to publish a 50-Page Yes In My Back Yard toolkit to support organizations and communities looking to build housing for vulnerable and marginalized populations.

In contrast, while waiting for CMHC to come to the same conclusion that had already been arrived at by CBRM staff, some Councillors made hurtful, unnecessary, and uninformed comments on the Ally Centre’s current location, clients of the Ally Centre, and those living with substance use disorder.

In doing so, they risk moving us further away from realizing a community characterized by its inclusion, understanding, and compassion.

While we may all have our personal opinions on what should go where in our community, we should remember that citizens in Canada have the right to live where they choose. It is not legal (or ethical) to deny some of our residents the freedom to live in some neighbourhoods.

If proposed developments meet bylaws and zoning/planning requirements (as the New Dawn-Ally Centre project did in all of the locations considered), Council cannot impose additional consultation requirements on the development because of who it intends to house, and they cannot make one-off decisions on who should live where – this is a decision that has already been made for them by virtue of municipal bylaws and zoning.

To suggest otherwise (that some people shouldn’t live in some neighbourhoods, or that some projects should require consultation beyond what zoning provisions require) is not only ridiculous and discriminatory but suggests a poor understanding of the basic rules of the jurisdiction they’ve been elected to govern.

It is also worth remembering that parts of the CBRM have some of the highest per capita rates of addiction in Nova Scotia, and Canada. Our addictions crisis is not going to go away if we ignore it, and it is definitely not going to go away if we try to shame those contending with addictions, mental illness, and trauma into getting better.

A Municipal Role in Housing

Finally, this experience has left us thinking about the role of municipal governments in housing. We’ve heard repeatedly over the last six weeks that housing is not a municipal responsibility and that CBRM didn’t ask for this money.

The issue of affordable housing is one of several issues – climate change, poverty, population growth, mental health/addictions, unemployment, healthcare – that will challenge this and other municipalities in the coming years. These are the issues that define our health, wellbeing, safety, and quality of life. They are the issues that citizens are talking about, calling about, and worrying about. And they are the issues that prospective residents are looking at when considering Cape Breton as a place to live and work.

And yet they are issues that are not the responsibility of municipal governments. Declaring them to be municipal priorities (as the CBRM has done with population growth in its strategic plan) does not make them municipal responsibilities.

Rather, it means that we commit to staying with them (lobbying, supporting, consulting, listening, pivoting, negotiating, and lobbying some more) until we achieve the outcomes that we know are possible, and that residents of the CBRM both need, and deserve.

We’ve also heard the CBRM say that they lacked the capacity to handle this allocation of funds. They don’t have dedicated housing staff and they don’t have housing experience. We hope this means they are taking a close look at the $4B CMHC just released for municipalities looking to build capacity in housing (and then build actual housing).

Next Steps, The Best Kind

We look forward to seeing the new housing take shape and starting to meet some of the tenants who will bring life, perspective, and energy to the development. Over the next few months, we will be:

  • Finalizing the RHI funding agreement with the CBRM;
  • Convening the design and construction team to review and finalize the proposed design to ensure that it meets the needs of the Ally Centre, prospective tenants, and that we have safe, welcoming, appropriate, beautiful, and dignified indoor and outdoor spaces for everyone;
  • Beginning site-preparations: excavation, levelling, services, foundation, and then framing;
  • Checking back in with harm-reduction housing providers around the country as we firm up the staffing and programming model;
  • And, of course, keeping you all abreast (here and on our social media sites) of the ins and outs, ups and downs, and many celebrations to come.