There’s a housing crisis in Saint John. The United Church is marking unused land to help resolve it
The United Church of Canada is embarking on a nationwide initiative to build housing on its surplus land – and that includes its property in Saint John, NB
The Church is constructing a 95-unit mixed-income development project on its Portland United Church lot in the city’s North End. An apartment building with 90 residential units and five terraced houses are planned.
“[This development] supports the outreach that the church has done for 200 years,” said Steve McCall, executive chairman of the Portland United Church, adding that the North End is becoming a desirable neighborhood and new housing is needed.
McCall said the goal is to have about 38 units of affordable housing in the development.
The United Church of Canada has established an independent development company, Kindred Works, to help develop surplus land. Kindred’s goal is to house 34,000 Canadians by 2037, with a third of those units below market prices, according to Kristopher Tavella, director of real estate development.
Tavella says Kindred Works is hoping for financial support for the project from all levels of government. For affordable units, the hope is that rental costs will be tied to income.
Deputy Mayor John MacKenzie is excited about developments in his community.
“I think there’s definitely a need, and anyone willing to step up and put forward the proposal, I have all the respect in the world [for],” he said.
There are already two affordable homes on the Portland United Church property, approximately 10 and 30 years old, respectively.
Neighbors concerned about North End development
Not everyone is happy about the development.
The development was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the city’s planning advisory board. Kindred Works requested that part of a street be closed to allow the development to be constructed further away from existing lots on Milledge Avenue.
“Unfortunately… from their perspective, they see this as an intrusion into their space. At the same time, the positive benefit for the community is very important.” -Steve McCall
Resident Dawn Lamb told the committee that she opposed the overall development, not just the bid before the committee.
“We feel like we’re being evicted from our home. Ninety-one units behind our house?” Lamb said, adding that the green space behind her house, where some of the development would go, is already prone to flooding.
“So put plaster on top of it at a higher level. What will that do to my house?”
McCall informed the committee that any potential flooding issues are being addressed and geotechnical engineers have surveyed the site.
Lamb also raised concerns about road safety due to the influx of people.
McCall said the church’s neighbors had long been accustomed to a large green space that had always been designated for residential use, the church simply never responded.
“Unfortunately, from their perspective, they see this as an intrusion into their space. At the same time, the positive benefit to the community is very important,” he told CBC News after the meeting.
The overall development was not an issue in the committee, as the church property is already designated for this type of development.
“But if we can make it harder for them, we’re definitely opposed to rezoning,” Lamb said of the motion before the committee.
The committee voted to approve the motion, which will next go to City Council.
The government should do more, says the lawyer
Tobin LeBlanc Haley, a member of the New Brunswick Coalition of Tenants Rights and a sociologist at the University of New Brunswick at Saint John, supports the development.
But “that this has to be done by an entity outside the public sector is a problem for me,” she said. She added that this is not a criticism of the developers who are trying to help.
Haley said public investment in development is good, but not a systematic approach to solving the problem.
“What we’re seeing here is an ad hoc approach to a crisis,” she said.
The province cannot respond to housing alone, Rebecca Howland, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Development, said in a statement. According to Howland, private and non-profit developers play a key role.
In the past three years, the province has surpassed its goal of 177 affordable housing units under the bilateral agreement between Canada and New Brunswick, Howland said. More than 400 new affordable housing units will be created over the next three years, Howland said.