Willow Tree Tower developer to pay city $1.8M instead of including 20 affordable housing units

HRM council accept $1.8 million from developer in lieu of affordable housing

Halifax welcomed 22,000 new residents last year, a new record in terms of population growth.

Looking 10 years down the road it’s anticipated the population is expected to increase by 120,00 and so it raises the question, where is everyone going to live?

As it stands there’s a 1.6 per cent vacancy rate in Halifax and according to Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, that has created a housing crisis.

READ MORE: Feds, province to invest $394.2M in improving housing affordability in Nova Scotia

“The demand is huge, and rents will begin to creep up and incomes can’t keep up,” said Jim Graham, executive director with AHANS.

As for the stock and status of the amount of affordable housing in Nova Scotia it isn’t where it should be either, Graham describes it in dire terms.

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“Well, you could say it’s grim,” said Graham. “That would be one word. It’s not very healthy. You have tens of thousands of households paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing.”

Those numbers equate to rental poverty and part of the reason why Graham had mixed feelings when HRM council voted in favour Tuesday of accepting the $1.8 million.

READ MORE: Feds, province to invest $394.2M in improving housing affordability in Nova Scotia

The payment was from a local developer in lieu of building 20 affordable housing units in the proposed 25 story Willow Tree development to be constructed at the corner of Quinpool Road and Robie Street.

“My hope was that we would have a building that would have affordable housing there,” said HRM Coun. Richard Zurawski.

It was only Zurawski and Coun. Tim Outhit who voted against accepting the 1.8 million payment, while others at the council table,  expressed their reservations, but voted to accept the one time cash payment to go into a new affordable housing fund.

READ MORE: $88M invested in joint Nova Scotia’s Affordable Housing Action Plan

“This idea that we could have a financial input to use the money for other affordable housing is kind of a second or third best,” said Zurawski.

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Council questioned staff on how the municipality can use the money with respect to affordable housing, but no straight answer could be given, as staff said a program for dispensing that funds have yet to be finalized.

Graham says the municipality should partner with the province to get the most out of the money.

“This $1.8 million is a very small amount compared to what you are about to invest,” he said. “But how can we invest this money in (the province’s) initiatives in Halifax to make something more than we can do ourselves?”

The Nova Scotia government is currently working on a three-year action plan, to determine how it will use federal and other levels of government funding to address the housing issue in halifax.