Halifax council agrees to boost modular housing budget by $1.2M, but with concerns

Click to play video: 'Dartmouth modular units in final stages' Dartmouth modular units in final stages
WATCH: Finishing touches are being made to the long-awaited modular housing units in Dartmouth -- and they may open as soon as this weekend. This means 26 people experiencing homelessness will have a more permanent form of shelter. Alicia Draus reports – Jan 11, 2022

Halifax councillors have voted unanimously to increase the budget for the municipality’s modular housing project by $1.2 million, but voiced concerns about the future financial implications of a growing situation.

Modular units in Dartmouth on Alderney Drive, which will provide shelter for 26 people, are nearly complete as of Tuesday.

Read more: Majority of delayed Dartmouth modular units to be finished Tuesday - HRM

The finishing touches are being put on the units, which could be occupied as early as this weekend.

It comes nearly a month after the initial target completion date of Dec. 20, 2021. In November 2021, it was revealed that the original modular units the municipality hoped to purchase were “not suitable,” which contributed to the delays.

The project — which includes nine modular units on the Halifax side of the harbour to house 38 people — is also costing more than anticipated.

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During the first council meeting of the year, councillors passed a motion to increase the project budget from $3.7 million to $4.9 million.

“At this point there’s no turning back. We need to finish the job and get it done,” CAO Jacques Dubé told councillors.

He added that “these costs are real and we need to pay our suppliers.”

While the municipality took on the responsibility of installing the units, and will own them, the province is providing funding to Out of the Cold Community Association to deliver the wraparound services.

Councillors who spoke on the motion agreed that the project is important and much-needed, but also wondered why the provincial government wasn’t stepping up more and whether more funds will be necessary again.

“We agreed for better or worse, and I think it’s the right thing to do, to pay for these modular units. There’s an extra cost, we have to pay that extra cost,” said Mayor Mike Savage.

“We have to be very mindful that can’t go on forever and we are stepping into an area that we haven’t done before because of the fact that this is strictly specking not part of our mandate. But it is part of our responsibility and part of our conscience.”

Savage added that this has been the “most frustrating and difficult” issue he has faced in his time as mayor.

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Read more: Halifax police pepper spray crowd during protests over torn-down shelters

Last August, occupants of a makeshift encampment in downtown Halifax were forcibly evicted by Halifax Regional Police. It prompted the calls for more services and support for unhoused people — a population that’s estimated to be 400 in the municipality.

Savage said the completion of the Dartmouth units is only one step in many to help the most vulnerable. The Halifax units are not expected to be finished until March.

“It’s an important day, it’s not a mission accomplished day,” Savage said.

Click to play video: 'Protestors confronted Halifax police trying to evict people' Protestors confronted Halifax police trying to evict people
Protestors confronted Halifax police trying to evict people – Aug 18, 2021

Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East Coun. Tony Mancini said he was “frustrated” with the province and was concerned that even once the units are complete, it won’t be enough to house all those who need assistance.

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Other councillors said while the units were delayed, so to speak, the speed in which they have been built should be lauded.

“We overpromised and created expectations that we just couldn’t meet,” said Dartmouth Centre Coun. Sam Austin.

“But the end result of treating this as urgent and moving ahead without everything being fully worked out is we’re getting people into safe indoor spaces and creating a base for Out of the Cold – something they haven’t had – much sooner than otherwise would be the case.”

‘This is their home’

Earlier in the day, councillors toured the modular units in Dartmouth. The units provide private rooms for occupants, with a bed, desk, and use of a kitchen.

“The rooms that were there were well-equipped and were clean and obviously new,” described Lower Sackville Coun. Paul Russell.

“They have all the amenities that I would think that someone would need for a little while.”

Read more: Nova Scotia’s housing crisis - How the emergency has reached a boiling point

Michelle Malette, the executive director of Out of the Cold Community Association, said they will be offering 24/7 support.

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“There will be case workers there … during the day, each person who lives on site will have a case manager who supports them individually (and) there will be a food program there,” said Malette.

“People are so filled with gratitude or excited for a bedroom that is 9×9 or 10×10 because it’s actually going to be theirs.”

Malette went on to explain that unlike shelter environments, the modular units provide a more long-term situation and privacy.

“These are someone’s space, so each person is going to have a key to their room and a key to the trailer,” Malette said.

“This is their home. This is where they can store their belongings … this is where they know their things are safe and they’re going to have constant access to washrooms.”

Click to play video: 'HRM councillor Mancini talks modular housing units, Bill 21' HRM councillor Mancini talks modular housing units, Bill 21
HRM councillor Mancini talks modular housing units, Bill 21 – Jan 11, 2022

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