Rally to ‘keep Dartmouth affordable’ raises concerns about proposed housing development

Click to play video: 'Housing advocacy group rallies for new development in Dartmouth to include affordable housing'
Housing advocacy group rallies for new development in Dartmouth to include affordable housing
WATCH: A rally was held outside the Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth on Saturday to express concerns surrounding a 2,200-unit residential development being proposed in the area. As Vanessa Wright reports, advocates are concerned that the new space won't include any low-cost housing, adding to an existing affordable housing crisis – Jun 24, 2023

Protestors gathered in Dartmouth on Saturday to express their concerns with the proposed development of a 2,200-unit residential space expected to be built throughout the existing Mic Mac Mall parking lot.

The rally, dubbed “Fight to keep Dartmouth affordable,” was organized by housing advocacy group ACORN Nova Scotia, to demand affordable units be included in the project.

“Fight, fight, fight, housing is a human right,” and the singing of “Solidarity Forever” was heard as vehicles passed by and honked horns to show support towards the wide-ranging age group of advocates.

Tim Allenby, the co-chair of ACORN’s Dartmouth chapter, said the project currently has no mandated requirement for affordable units to be built on the site.

“We obviously welcome new units going up because we’re in a housing crisis, but it won’t go anywhere to solving the housing crisis unless those units can be afforded by the people who are living in the neighbourhood,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“We need homes for the sake of homes, not property for the sake of investment.”

A 3D outline of the projected development was included in a recent update provided online by the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The development, which is being called “The M District”, is being spearheaded by WM Fares Architects, on behalf of Rank Inc., according to a project outline provided by the municipality.

“The proposal includes approximately 2,200 new residential units, plus 400 units for retirement living and additional commercial office and retail space built around the existing mall.” read a project outline provided in an update from the city in May.

The district is expected to be accommodated by new streets and parks in the area surrounded by Mic Mac Boulevard, Horizon Court, and Highway 111.

Allenby said he has a message for anyone involved in allowing this development to proceed: include housing that’s affordable.

Story continues below advertisement
Tim Allenby, co-chair of ACORN’s Dartmouth chapter.

“Make sure it’s affordable for real people’s real wages, not what they consider affordable like 1800 dollars a month … actually affordable for regular people and build that requirement into the development as it gets constructed,” he said.

“We want any level of government that has the power to act … that housing be built to people’s needs, not just to please a shareholder somewhere in Toronto or New York,” he continued.

“We can’t afford to move out”

Allenby said more residents are getting involved in assisting with ACORN’s fight for more affordable housing, as people continue to experience difficulties in the housing or rental market.

Two of those ACORN members are Marjorie Pemberton and Fabian Donovan, who have been roommates for about six years, and say they’ve experienced black mold, cockroaches, ants, and mice while living in their Spryfield apartment.

Story continues below advertisement

“We can’t afford to move out,” said Pemberton, adding that the two are currently living with physical disabilities and have to climb three flights of stairs when entering and leaving their home. Despite these challenges, they’re yet to locate other housing solutions.

“We can’t even look when we see the price. We just couldn’t afford it, it’d take like 60 per cent of our income,” Pemberton said, adding that they both rely on social insurance programs like the Canada Pension Plan to cover their expenses.

Pemberton said that considering the average price of a two-bedroom apartment in Halifax equates to their monthly income, moving elsewhere isn’t an option.

“If I was looking for an apartment right now … I would not be able to live,” her roommate, Fabian Donovan said.

Dartmouth councillor ponders solutions

Sam Austin, councillor for Dartmouth’s District 5, said although he sees the new residential units as a big opportunity “for the city as a whole”, he recognizes the concerns and still has some questions about logistics.

“We’re talking about building an entire new neighborhood that has the population of a small town,” he said.

“So what amenities are going to go into there to support that and how does the broader community also benefit from those amenities that are going to be put there? There’s opportunity and there’s also challenge,” Austin continued.

Story continues below advertisement

Austin said the development location, which is currently an asphalt parking lot surrounding the Mic Mac Mall, works well because “it’s already a hub” with access to transit routes, trails, city and commercial services.

“We are seeing unprecedented growth in the municipality and one of the big challenges of growth is we have to try and put it in places that make sense,” he said.

In reference to the calls for some of the anticipated units to be modestly priced, Austin mentioned that one solution could include exercising the municipality’s power to enforce inclusionary zoning.

“That could result in some actual units here being directly affordable,” he said.

In October 2021, the province made amendments to the Municipal Government Act to offer more planning powers to municipalities, with one being “inclusionary zoning”, which they described as a way for places like the Halifax Regional Municipality to require affordable housing in new developments within municipal boundaries.

Austin said although exercising these tools may be an option to produce some low-cost units, it still doesn’t replace the need for an improved overall housing investment from the provincial government.

“We have not built any new public housing units in 30 years,” the Dartmouth councillor said. “That’s a huge part of our problem.”

Story continues below advertisement

He said people advocating for the accessibility of more affordable housing should continue pressuring provincial departments on the issue.

“That is where the root of the lack of affordable housing stock rests,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to truly get out of our housing issues unless (provincial) government recognizes that we have a huge supply challenge in terms of public housing and actually commits to building more public housing.”

As for building on the day’s momentum and continuing that fight, Allenby said his crew is just getting started.

“This is the start of applying that pressure to the city, to the province, to make sure that going forward that this development, and if not this development, then future developments will have that affordable housing that we need,” he said.

“This isn’t where the fight ends, this is where the fight begins.”

ACORN Nova Scotia will continue its calls for change at an affordable housing forum in Halifax on July 13th.

— with files from Vanessa Wright

Sponsored content