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Former high school building pegged for affordable housing in Saint John

Click to play video 'Former SJ high school targeted as home for affordable housing units' Former SJ high school targeted as home for affordable housing units
WATCH: St Vincent’s High School in Saint John hasn’t had a graduating class in close to 20 years. As Andrew Cromwell reports, another attempt is being made to convert the aging building into affordable housing units – Dec 17, 2020

Affordable housing in Saint John may be about to receive a much-needed shot in the arm.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint John has gifted the former St. Vincent’s High School and its land to the group Housing Alternatives. The last graduating class at St. Vincent’s was almost 20 years ago and since then, efforts to convert the school into housing have come up short.

The head of Housing Alternatives is looking at a federal program to bring the project to fruition.

“Phase 1 (is) that we would apply through the Rapid Housing Initiative for 30 units targeting the most vulnerable population with the work to be done within a relatively short period of time,” said executive director Kit Hickey.

Read more: New Brunswick wait list for affordable housing grows by more than 800 in six months

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That could be as early as next April.

Hickey says she’s cautiously optimistic funding will come the group’s way.

“We would be eligible for one hundred per cent of the capital cost, however, we don’t know that we’ll receive one hundred per cent,” she said.

Phase 2 would be another 30 units featuring mixed-income housing.

The news has the community buzzing.

Click to play video 'New Brunswick silent on matching Moncton’s affordable housing fund' New Brunswick silent on matching Moncton’s affordable housing fund
New Brunswick silent on matching Moncton’s affordable housing fund – Nov 3, 2020

“Our need is affordable housing and housing for the vulnerable,” said Coun. John MacKenzie, who sits on an affordable housing committee in the city. “That’s why this project is so important to the city of Saint John. That’ll help fill that gap very nicely.”

Saint John’s most vulnerable are chronically homeless people — those who have been without a place to live for at least six months, according to the Human Development Council. The HDC says it counts about 55 chronically homeless people in the city.

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“I think that’s just going to expand the ability for us to be able to do the work to house chronically homeless people here in Saint John because the more affordable models that are available the better,” said Cathy Boyce, affordable housing specialist with the Human Development Council.

Read more: Advocate frustrated as New Brunswick cuts up to 70 housing subsidies

Meanwhile, Housing Alternatives is part of the recent purchase of an apartment building in the city’s north end to provide affordable housing for so-called modest income earners. Because of the hot housing market in the area, the building was purchased well above its assessed value but in line with what the building was appraised for.

There are also plans to convert the land next to St. Vincent’s into affordable housing units as well.

There’s no word yet on how much the St. Vincent’s project is going to cost.