Homeless people protest CBRM council decision on affordable housing

Charlene Marie Johnson says Cape Breton Regional Municipality should now approve rapid housing project and help get people like her out of tents and into safe shelters in Sydney, NS (Matthew Moore/CBC - photo credit)

Charlene Marie Johnson says Cape Breton Regional Municipality should now approve rapid housing project and help get people like her out of tents and into safe shelters in Sydney, NS (Matthew Moore/CBC – photo credit)

The day she went to Cape Breton Regional Municipality City Hall to protest for homeless shelters, Charlene Marie Johnson woke up with a chill on her body.

For the past year, the 46-year-old has been living with her husband in a small tent in Sydney, NS, and despite having plenty of blankets, she can’t always keep out the cold.

“It’s pretty hard, but I’m Mi’kmaw,” she said. “I can live outside and I can make a fire all by myself.”

Johnson was among dozens of people living in precarious housing who attended an emergency CBRM council meeting Friday, at which council members were to try to find a way to keep $5 million in federal funding for affordable housing.

Council knocked down a hornet’s nest earlier in the week when it rejected a 20-unit housing proposal submitted by New Dawn Enterprises and the Ally Center of Cape Breton.

It was one of four applications that CBRM received under Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rapid Housing Initiative, and it was also the only one that met all of the eligibility requirements.

Tom Ayers/CBC

Tom Ayers/CBC

Johnson said the council should have accepted the proposal and looked into building homes for people living on the streets.

“The Ally Center should get the funding it needs to help us homeless people,” she said. “They try their best to help the homeless.”

“Me and my husband, we were looking for an apartment, but everything is full.”

At the emergency meeting, hastily convened after public outcry over the earlier decision to reject the proposal, council members voted to send all four proposals to the CMHC for review assistance.

The council unanimously backed the move, saying CMHC rules had been too rigid – funding was announced in November and the application deadline is March 15 – and they were only given some flexibility after losing the £5million total risked dollars.

While this is a glimmer of hope that one or more of the proposals can be accepted, the decision angered the only supporters who qualified for the funding and angered the acting Nova Scotia Secretary of Municipal Affairs.

Matthew Moore/CBC

Matthew Moore/CBC

New Dawn CEO Erika Shea and Ally Center executive director Christine Porter called on the mayor and council to step down.

After the emergency meeting, Shea said the whole process made no sense.

The refusal earlier in the week meant CBD had to ship the money back to Ottawa, despite what many are calling the local housing crisis.

“Words fail me to describe how much the Mayor and Council have disappointed and let down this community,” Shea said.

“This is not a tour”

“When this community was first given the power to choose this community’s priority, they asked Ottawa to decide for them. This isn’t leadership.

“I think any councilman, including the mayor, who voted today to send that decision back to Ottawa for Ottawa to decide what our community priorities are, needs to step down.”

The executive director of the Shea and Ally Center, Christine Porter, said people are dying on the streets and now they need housing.

During the emergency meeting, council members who originally voted to reject the New Dawn-Ally Center’s proposal defended their stance, saying they did not have enough information at the time to make a proper decision.

Tom Ayers/CBC

Tom Ayers/CBC

They accused CMHC of not providing enough time to collect and evaluate appropriate proposals and the provincial government for not attending Tuesday’s meeting to provide assistance.

Acting Secretary of Municipal Affairs Colton LeBlanc issued a press release Friday afternoon saying he was disappointed with the council’s decision earlier in the week.

He said ministry officials “immediately” began working with CBRM and CMHC to try to find a way to keep the money in the community.

LeBlanc said it was a “complete fabrication” that the province did not support CBRM, and he was further disappointed “to hear that CBRM is attributing blame rather than taking responsibility for their erroneous actions, only because of public pressure.” to reverse course”.

Tom Ayers/CBC

Tom Ayers/CBC

Mayor Amanda McDougall said the community was only given the flexibility to submit all proposals by March 15 during a “strict and open” meeting with CMHC officials on Thursday, with a final decision expected by the end of the month.

She said calls for his resignation were “unfortunate” but said she would not be stepping down.

Instead, the council managed to find a way not to send the money back.

“Now we have an opportunity to keep that money in the community.”

McDougall said CBRM intentionally did not apply for the first two rounds of federal funding because the municipality did not have the human capacity for housing administration, which is the province’s responsibility.

Capacity is built up

When asked if CBDM has that capacity now, she said it’s being built.

The mayor said the two Liberal Cape Breton lawmakers pushed for the housing funds at CMHC without consulting community staff or council.

“Not to say we’re not grateful for this money pouring into our community, but working together is essential if you want to see these programs succeed,” McDougall said.

Now, CBRM has some time to work with applicants and federal officials to try to increase the number of successful projects, she said.



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