Alex Paul: Unsubstantiated Fears

ALEX PAUL: Unsubstantiated fears associated with north-end New Dawn project (Cape Breton Post)

Cape Breton Post, July 26 2023

Alex Paul, Chair New Dawn Board of Directors

One of the great joys of serving on the board of directors for New Dawn Enterprises is continuously witnessing the impact that a community-focused organization can have on the region it serves.

A recent undertaking of New Dawn — the construction of 24 supportive affordable housing units under the Rapid Housing Initiative — will see residents of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality taken off the street and housed. In my time as a director, I have not seen a project that will have a more immediate, direct, and far-reaching impact. As chair of the board, it is an honour to be supporting New Dawn staff as they work towards the realization of this project; one that is very much a reflection of New Dawn’s values and mandate.


A number of north-end residents have organized to express their concerns regarding the development on the basis of the land that will be lost to it. They’ve taken to referring to this land as the “North-end heritage park.” It is worth noting that this land is presently (and historically) private property.

Can private property also be valued community space? Of course. But the land in question is 2,500 square feet (one-fifth of one floor of the New Dawn Centre) and was fenced off when New Dawn acquired the property in 2012. We appreciate the passion for the preservation of greenspace, but it is not accurate to represent this relatively small piece of private, fenced property as a longstanding cherished community heritage park.


We invite all residents of the north end and the CBRM to come at any time and enjoy the much larger renewed greenspace in front of the Eltuek Arts Centre, to which we are presently adding an outdoor stage that has been designed to double as infrastructure for the local skateboarding community in response to input on how we can make the site more welcoming and useful.

Land is finite and so we, like others, must balance competing uses. For us, greenspace is more important than parking, but housing for vulnerable individuals is the most important of all.

Fears Expressed

Other CBRM residents have been more forthcoming about why they oppose the development. In the words of Kenneth MacKeigan (Marion Bridge), “I would not want to see low-income housing in the area because it has a track record for attracting a multitude of social problems.” While we disagree with Mr. MacKeigan’s position, his honesty is a welcome change.

One of the concerns expressed by Mr. MacKeigan is that housing for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and contending with substance use disorder is synonymous with dangerous, unlawful, and property-value-reducing behaviours.

Data Says Otherwise

The research on this topic is plentiful. It doesn’t substantiate these fears. We’ve outlined and linked to a number of studies on our website, so I will only include a few references here.

A study examining 16 apartment buildings (nine to 34 units) in residential neighbourhoods in Vancouver found no evidence of an increase in crime in areas around supportive housing buildings over a period of 25 years (Supportive Housing Strategy for Vancouver Coastal Health,

A study of 146 supportive housing sites (up to 53 units per site) in Denver found “no statistically significant evidence that supportive housing led to increased rates of violence, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, or violent or total crimes” (Impacts of Supportive Housing on Neighborhoods and Neighbors in Denver. (

In B.C., professional appraisers tracked seven social housing projects for five years, all of which were opposed by neighbours because they feared their property values would decline, thus threatening their investment. House prices near the projects increased by as much or more than houses in the control area

Property Values

Twenty-five other studies of affordable and supportive housing concluded that there was no impact on property values: a 26th study was inconclusive (“Affordable Housing and Choice Today. Housing In My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY”).

For the last 20 years, New Dawn has operated almost 30 Supportive Housing for Individuals with Mental Illness (SHIMI) units: affordable and supportive housing for individuals living with or recovering from addictions and mental illness. Most in the CBRM would not be able to identify these units, which have not been disruptive to neighbours, and where tenants have been able to live well, safely, and with dignity and privacy for two decades.

Supportive Housing

New Dawn is just one of many supportive housing providers throughout the CBRM. Supportive housing is not only necessary, but good for communities that strive to be inclusive and healthy. It is good in all communities, not just some communities (or someone else’s community).

In response to another of Mr. MacKeigan’s concerns, I want to share that New Dawn has never sold any of its supportive housing units (market units, yes, supportive housing units, no) and has made a 25-year commitment (which we intend to exceed) to both the federal and provincial government to own, maintain, and manage this new development. We understand how the recent sale of market units might cast some doubt on our long-term commitment to this new housing, but I assure you our commitment is deep and indefinite.

New Dawn’s work is, and has always been, aimed at building more a self-reliant and vibrant community. It is this vision of a community that is well, just, prosperous, honest, confident, fair, and independent, that ties together our work in housing, supportive housing, homecare, meals on wheels, food security, arts and culture, immigration settlement, local investment, and care for individuals with disabilities.

We see development and prosperity, not as ends, but as a means to an end. Our end is one in which more people are well, more people are safe, more people are able to live with dignity, and more people are loved.

New Dawn History

In the past 10 years, there has been opposition to our decision to locate SHIMI units in the north end, to our direction with and design of the arts centre, and to our purchasing St. George’s Hall for Island Folk Cider House. New Dawn is no stranger to spearheading developments that we believe deeply in, but that don’t have universal support in their early days. We committed to doing each of these projects well and are proud of the results. While in all of our work, we strive for excellence in both development and operations, it is you, the community, and those we serve, who ultimately get to be the judge of this.

In partnership with the Ally Centre of Cape Breton, and in conversation with more than a dozen other frontline community organizations, we have set out to build housing that will feel like home for the new tenants: safe, welcoming, dignified, secure, well-designed, close to public transit and services like grocery stores and pharmacies.

Security, privacy, safety, dignity, accessibility, energy efficiency, and aesthetic are all issues actively being discussed with the design team. We look forward to sharing more about the design in the fall.

Project Guidance

In addition to local service providers, this project is being guided by an advisory committee comprised of supportive housing providers and experts from across Atlantic Canada to ensure that as we design the building and its staffing, we do so with the most current understanding of how to best support individuals at risk of homelessness, including their integration and relationship with the surrounding community. We are confident that the selected site will allow for this and much more.

It will allow the tenants to be part of a vibrant, diverse, neighbourhood and to avail themselves of the services and programs in the downtown, the New Dawn Centre and the Eltuek Arts Centre.

For many, it will allow them to have a home for the first time that is safe — and theirs.

It will, in the words of one north-end resident, “invite those who have been most cast aside to make their new home in one of our community’s most beautiful places.”

Alex Paul is Chair of the New Dawn Enterprises Board of Directors.