ANTIGONISH COUNTY – As affordable housing remains a pressing need throughout our region, the Municipality of the County of Antigonish continues its strong support of the push for more affordable housing opportunities in its communities.
Most recently, county council greenlighted the transfer of land on Appleseed Drive – near Saint Andrews Junior School and Antigonish Education Centre – to the Antigonish Affordable Housing Society (AAHS), which will use it to construct a 15-unit complex.
“We thought it was the right thing to do,” Warden Owen McCarron says of the unanimous decision to turn over the property.
He notes there had been other proposed uses for the municipal tract in recent years.
“We think it was the right fit for the right group,” McCarron adds.
Along with the land donation, the municipality has committed $100,000 – over a five-year period – to the initiative.
“It is a major contribution, but this is something that addresses a significant shortfall,” McCarron offers of the funding that will help address the need for affordable housing.
Noting how vital “good housing” is as a key determinant of health, he describes the AAHS effort as a “great project.”
This is not the first time county council has backed AAHS and its work, having pitched in $100,000 – over a five-year period – to the volunteer organization’s highly successful Riverside Estates’ housing complex on Hope Drive in Sylvan Valley.
“It has been phenomenal,” AAHS chair Colleen Cameron says of the support they have received from both the county and Town of Antigonish.
Earlier this year, town council earmarked $100,000 – over a five-year period – to the Appleseed Drive project, which comes after they made the same monetary commitment to the Riverside Estates’ initiative.
“It has changed over the years,” she notes of a pervading attitude with councils in the past that affordable housing was “not a municipal issue.”
Cameron, an advocate of the need for improved affordable housing options for more than two decades, says both Antigonish municipalities have become “very receptive” in recent years.
Nevertheless, she suggests, the stance that affordable housing is a “provincial issue” remains for many municipalities across Nova Scotia.
“It has become a nice partnership,” Cameron says of AAHS’s relationship with their local municipal units.
‘Sense of community’
Along with Antigonish town and county, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation – through its National Housing Strategy, Housing Nova Scotia, Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Martha have committed monies to the yet-to-be-named project, which carries an estimated $2,912,500 price tag.
“We didn’t go back to the community. That was a challenge, but we did it,” Cameron says of this fundraising endeavour.
Financial support from residents and local organizations were a key to making the Riverside Estates’ dream a reality.
Nevertheless, as they did with that foundational effort, Cameron notes AAHS will be turning to the community to help finance – through its fundraisers and other avenues – what she describes as “social aspects,” such as the community room and navigator.
AAHS hosts regular events, including a curling bonspiel, pool shooting day and dance.
“We are trying to build a sense of community,” she says, noting one of the main focuses for the community navigator is providing support to tenants.
Cameron stresses that AAHS and its work continues to be about more than providing people with a place to live.
Plans to mimic elements of Riverside Estates – such as a shared garden and a community advisory group, including regular tenant meetings – reflect that goal.
The four-building complex will include one, two and three-bedroom apartments – four of which will be barrier-free.
“It is excellent,” she said of the Appleseed Drive location’s not only to the schools, but also downtown and Post Road businesses.
The complex will also be on the Antigonish Community Transit bus route.
At this point, AAHS and municipal planning officials are working on the required development agreement.
On the day (Sept. 10) of her interview with The Journal, Cameron said AAHS was gathering later to review bids for the construction tender.
Considering there are “logistical steps” that need to be finished, she doesn’t anticipate construction getting underway until “early spring” of next year.
AAHS targeted an August 2021 opening date for the Appleseed Drive complex, but Cameron estimates sometime in the fall is now a more realistic goal.
Sharing their expertise
Along with laying the groundwork for their second housing project, AAHS continues its effort to assist other communities and organizations in reaching their affordable housing goals.
“We are sharing information and providing advice,” Cameron says, noting group representatives have made presentations to municipal councils in the region.
She adds AAHS frequently fields calls from across the province regarding Riverside Estates and its success.
AAHS vice-chair Pauline MacIntosh is also part of a rural housing group that includes representation from Antigonish, Guysborough, Inverness and Richmond counties.
In mid-May, AAHS partnered with StFX Extension and the Strait Richmond Housing Group to host a People’s School style session that centred on researching affordable housing needs. More than 50 people attended the most recent of similar sessions conducted over the past several months.
Despite AAHS’s successes, Cameron notes – when it comes to affordable housing – there remains the need for further research.
“We keep running into road blocks,” she says of the push for affordable housing, reiterating the journey to opening Riverside Estates covered more than 20 years.
Since its inception, Cameron notes, AAHS has worked towards providing people with “financial, environmental and affordable housing.”
Noting county council is “very appreciative,” McCarron credited AAHS for its “tremendous volunteer effort.”
“They are helping create a better community to live in,” he says.
For more about AAHS, visit antigonishaffordablehousing.ca, or email email@example.com.