RHI Housing Development

Answers to questions on harm reduction housing, property values, greenspace, community consultations, and the new housing's location, design, staffing, and more.

What is supportive affordable housing?

Affordable Housing is housing that costs less than 30% of before-tax household income including all shelter costs such as electricity, water, and other municipal services.

This number (30% of before-tax household income) is one that has been carefully selected and researched by housing scholars and agencies like the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation or CMHC (and endorsed by many organizations working in the affordable housing and anti-poverty sectors) as the portion of a household budget that can be dedicated to rent or mortgage payments while still allowing that household to afford the other goods and services (like groceries, transportation, clothing, Internet, etc.) that they need in a month.

Affordable Housing with Support Services is housing that costs less than 30% of before-tax household income including shelter costs and includes the provision of clinical and/or specialized support services to ensure the ongoing health and stability of the resident.

This could be help with the activities of daily living (laundry, transportation, meal planning, budgeting), assistance from a social worker in mapping out goals, and/or referrals to mental health clinicians, among other things.

Individuals who benefit from supportive housing can range from seniors to those living with disabilities, those living with mental illness, people transitioning out of incarceration, and people living with addictions.

People who benefit from supportive housing are our family members, our friends, our coworkers, and our classmates.

What is harm reduction housing?

Harm reduction is an approach aimed at reducing the risks and harmful effects associated with substance use and addictive behaviours for the individual, the community and society as a whole.

It is deemed a realistic, pragmatic, humane and successful approach to addressing issues of substance use.

Harm reduction housing combines this approach with the provision of safe, supportive housing and does not make whether someone uses substances a contingency for their access to housing.

Can we ask certain people to be prohibited from living in our neighbourhood?

No one is required to ask permission to live in a neighbourhood and legislation, from planning acts and human rights codes, are in place to prevent “people zoning”.

People zoning (through by-laws that define the use of land by reference to personal characteristics) have been held to be invalid.

Likewise, by-laws that restrict affordable housing development in certain areas, such as lodging or rooming houses, while allowing other establishments of a similar scale can also be viewed as discriminatory.

In support of this approach to housing, the City of St. John’s Affordable Housing Charter, for instance, states that affordable housing is, amongst other things, a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a foundation for a safe, prosperous and healthy community.

The Toronto Housing Charter, the city’s commitment to supporting the housing rights of all of its residents affirms: (1) All residents should have a safe, secure, affordable and well-maintained home from which to realize their potential; (2) All residents should be able to live in their neighbourhood of choice without discrimination; and (3) All residents have the right to equal treatment in housing without discrimination and to be protected from discriminatory practices which limit their housing opportunities.

A Report of the Ontario Human Rights Commission has likewise noted that “people should not have to ask permission from anyone, including prospective neighbours, before moving in just because of stereotypes.”  And on March 2, 1993, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled that residents of public housing are a disadvantaged group protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Will a supportive housing development impact my property values?

This issue has been extensively studied in Canada and the United States across a variety of neighbourhoods and development proposals. Twenty-five studies of affordable housing (including supportive housing) concluded that there was no impact on property values; a 26th study was inconclusive.

Affordable Housing and Choice Today (ACT). Housing In My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY. 2009. P. 4

In British Columbia, the province commissioned a number of guides about NIMBY and among the seven case studies examined, there were none in which property values decreased. In fact, value increases were reported, substantiating positive impacts on properties in proximity to housing developments.

Affordable Housing and Choice Today (ACT). Housing In My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY. 2009. P. 4.

What will the housing look like?

New Dawn and the Ally Centre have set out to build housing that will feel like home for the tenants who rent there and provide them with the kinds of amenities we all want and need in our homes.

Security, privacy, safety, dignity, accessibility, energy efficiency, and aesthetic are all issues being discussed with the design team.

Any new housing construction in the CBRM must abide by the national building code to safeguard against poor quality construction, and the development must comply with the planning practices established by the province and the municipality.

New Dawn has a long history of building, owning, and managing good quality residential buildings, commercial buildings, and supportive housing. New Dawn is the largest non-profit housing provider in Cape Breton and has been providing safe and well-managed housing throughout the CBRM for more than forty years.

We look forward to sharing more about the design of this new housing as this information is available.

Will this mean more crime in the neighbourhood?

Studies of affordable housing, group homes and emergency shelters have concluded that crime rates are no higher in proximity to those units than in comparison sites (neighbourhoods without these amenities).

Affordable Housing and Choice Today. Housing In My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY. 2009. Pp. 5-6.

A study of 146 supportive housing sites in Denver concluded that “there was no statistically significant evidence that supportive housing led to increased rates of reported violent, property, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct or total crimes.

The Impacts of Supportive Housing on Neighborhoods and Neighbors in Denver, Urban Institute Washington DC https://www.huduser.gov/publications/pdf/support_1.pdf

In 25 years of experience with supported housing in Vancouver, there is no evidence that there has been an increase in crime in areas around these buildings. This study looked at 16 apartment buildings outside the downtown core ranging in size from nine to thirty-four units that are located in apartment zoned residential neighbourhoods. A review of the complaints filed with the city’s Licences and Inspection Department and with the Vancouver Police Department show few calls have been made by neighbours of these supportive housing projects.

Will there be community consultations?

The former Holy Angels property is zoned to allow for residential developments. Because the development does not require a change to zoning, there are no mandatory municipal community consultations/public hearings.

The former Holy Angels property was deemed to be the Arts and Culture Zone by CBRM Council in 2019. Its permitted uses actually include:

  • Apartment buildings
  • Artist/artisan establishment
  • Arts/Entertainment studio
  • Hotel/overnight accommodations
  • Clothes cleaning business
  • Day care facility
  • Funeral home
  • Business hall
  • Business office
  • Medical clinic
  • Nursing home
  • Repair service
  • Restaurant
  • Personal services business
  • Scientific establishment
  • Visitor information centre
  • Indoor recreational business establishment
  • All uses permitted in the NER zone subject to NER zone requirements

New Dawn had originally selected another location (Stuart Street) which was not acceptable to the majority of Council because of its distance from services that are concentrated in the downtown. Council found the new location – and its proximity to transit and services – acceptable.

As part of the revised application to CMHC for Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) funding (on the former Holy Angels site), New Dawn secured confirmation from the CBRM that the property was zoned to allow for the construction and operation of a 24-unit apartment building.

We have, and will continue to, engage local, regional, and national experts in harm reduction housing to inform the site and programming design.

We support and encourage all community efforts to welcome these new residents to the neighbourhood when the building opens in late fall 2024, just as we might for any other new members of our community.

Is this type of housing new to the CBRM?

No. For the last twenty years, New Dawn, for one, has operated almost 30 Supportive Housing for Individuals with Mental Illness (SHIMI) units throughout the CBRM. These are affordable and supportive housing units for individuals living with or recovering from addictions and mental illness.

We have operated these in partnership, and with great care, with Nova Scotia Mental Health and Addictions (who provide support services to SHIMI tenants), and with little to no disruption to residents in the neighbourhoods where these developments have been built.

Most people in the CBRM would not be able to identify any of these units as the tenants have been able to live well, safely, and with dignity and privacy for two decades. Although residents in SHIMI units have housing support staff visit and check-in with them on a regular basis, as their needs dictate, this housing is not staffed full time.

You can read more about New Dawn’s SHIMI housing here, including a study by Dr. Catherine Leviten Reid on the outcomes of the housing after its first decade: https://newdawn.ca/partnerships/shimi/

This is in addition to the other housing and commercial properties operated by New Dawn over the last forty years.

New Dawn is just one of many supportive housing providers in the CBRM.

Will the new units be staffed?

The housing to be built on the New Dawn property will be staffed 24 hours a day 7 days a week by (at minimum) two trained and qualified staff whose job will be to care for those in the housing.

This staffing is being designed, provided, and managed by The Ally Centre, a harm reduction organization with more than 30 years of experience in the CBRM. The staffing is not security, rather will be counsellors, social workers, nurses, adult educators, occupational therapists, etc. as appropriate.

As with any other home or apartment building, if a law is being broken, residents can contact the Cape Breton Regional Police. If a by-law is being violated, they can contact the CBRM.

What about the greenspace?

New Dawn has carefully designed, and continues to care for, a large greenspace in front of the Eltuek Arts Centre which is available for all to use.

Although New Dawn has been happy to have the space behind the high school enjoyed and used by residents, to suggest that is a park, or has ever been a park, is disingenuous.

The project architects are working to retain as much of the greenspace as possible, particularly for the benefit of the new tenants, who, like the rest of us enjoy and deserve access to greenspace. We hope to provide them with a thoughtful, safe outdoor environment to enjoy.

In the past New Dawn opposed the elimination of this greenspace to increase parking on the site. In our view, parking has less value than greenspace especially as we work to transition to greener modes of transportation.

Housing for the vulnerable, however, trumps all of this. In our view, keeping people sheltered, safe, and alive is of paramount importance when assessing competing uses of space.

The trees on the property are precious to us and we’ve done our best to care for them over the last decade. We don’t remove them lightly or without first looking for alternatives. If we have to remove trees to allow for the best building design and positioning, we will find creative and meaningful ways to use them throughout the site.

Will this make the Northend like the downtown?

We have a large and growing homeless population and population dealing with addictions (this should not come as a surprise as Cape Breton has always had higher than average rates of poverty and addiction, whether we have chosen to acknowledge or ignore that).

There are not people being bused to the CBRM to take up our support services (as been suggested). Rather we are seeing the result of years of trauma, poverty, and addictions in out communities.

Things that were once invisible (but still present) have become visible. This can feel overwhelming, confusing, and scary.

Providing some of these individuals with safe and stable homes provides them with a place (like we all have) to spend daytime hours that is not the sidewalk or parking lots.

With the $5M allotment to the CBRM we are only able to build 24 units of housing which is a respectable start to getting at some of the root causes of the issues you are concerned about.

We hope in the future to see additional funds to build additional housing for vulnerable populations so that we can together further reduce the number of people with literally nowhere to go during the day.

Residents of supportive affordable and harm reduction housing:

Are not scapegoats for larger or more general community problems.

Are not scapegoats for frustration over larger social issues surrounding homelessness.

Are not a burden to be spread out across a region to be better managed.

Residents of supportive affordable and harm reduction housing:

Are a community asset that will contribute to a vibrant, dynamic, liveable, and inclusive neighbourhood that offers opportunities for all people regardless of skin colour, religion, ethnicity, mental/physical abilities and health, addiction, or income.