Amherst Mayor hopes stimulus will boost development amid housing shortage

Amherst City Council has approved a new incentive for developers in hopes more housing projects will materialize.  (Robert Short/CBC - photo credit)

Amherst City Council has approved a new incentive for developers in hopes more housing projects will materialize. (Robert Short/CBC – photo credit)

The Mayor of Amherst, NS, like many of his provincial peers, is tired of hearing the same message from people hoping to move to his city.

“They are ready to take the job, but they can’t find a place to live,” Mayor David Kogon said.

“We had doctors, we had nurses, other healthcare providers who wanted to come here and couldn’t.”

In recent months, Kogon said city councilors have decided to do whatever they can to help create different types of housing to address the shortage and better serve people dealing with homelessness .

One possibility is a new residential infrastructure investment guideline approved by the council at the end of January.

Patrick Callaghan/CBC

Patrick Callaghan/CBC

The city would temporarily pay on a case-by-case basis for new roads and underground infrastructure such as sewer and water connections created by housing projects. The developer would then repay the city’s loan when the units are sold, Kogon said.

“It might be that little nudge that some developers need to be like, ‘Okay, now maybe I can make a development I have in mind,’ when before they couldn’t,” Kogon said.

“The community doesn’t have millions and millions of dollars sitting around to actually pay for things, but fortunately … we’re in a good financial position, we’re very strong and we feel like we can afford, some money to be made upfront on a loan basis.”

With this strategy, there is very little risk for the city, Kogon said, because a contract would ensure Amherst isn’t left behind on the loan if things go wrong.

Although Kogon said the policy has not yet been applied, it has already received positive feedback and pushed ahead with some proposed developments “that otherwise might not have moved forward”.

He added that all types of housing were badly needed, which is why the City Council bought a semi-detached house on Prince Arthur Street in a tax sale last year, to be donated to an affordable housing charity.

That plan was completed on February 27 when the councilors formally agreed to turn the property over to the Cumberland Homelessness and Housing Support Association.

City of Amherst

City of Amherst

The group plans to create five units of supportive and affordable housing on the site for a project called Cornerstone.

“You never really want to believe something is going to happen until it actually does, so we’re very excited,” said Alison Lair, Cornerstone’s chief executive officer.

Council Housing Conversion Center

Council Housing Conversion Center

Lair said the units are “very affordable” and would ideally make up 30 percent of a renter’s income, but those details aren’t finalized. Cornerstone hopes provincial rent supplements will be attached to the units to keep them affordable for residents and economically viable for the nonprofit, Lair said.

Lair said they will be working with local service providers to staff the building 24 hours a day with workers and other specialists. The ground floor would house a drop-in resource center during the day and provide emergency beds at night for people affected by homelessness.

The problem became more visible than ever last year as people in the city set up makeshift shelters, Lair said, and the problem has “got so much worse.” She said the latest number of people dealing with homelessness was in the high 30s.

“There’s just not the type of housing that people can move to,” Lair said.

The Cornstone team are now making plans for the new premises and are working with a project manager on costing. Lair said these will be largely funded by federal funds, but they will likely need help from the province and private donations as well.



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