Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Affordable housing

I came across a for-sale listing for Sadler Court, the 36-unit apartment complex on Alexandra Street in Sydney owned by New Dawn Enterprises.

Sadler Court, as the New Dawn site says, “brings together the convenience of downtown living, the serenity of a natural setting, and, best of all, the peace of mind of affordable housing.”

The asking price (as you can see below) is $2.7 million.

For-sale ad for Sadler Court, Sydney, NS

My immediate thought was, “What are the chances this housing will remain ‘affordable’ once it’s under new ownership?”

I emailed New Dawn CEO Erika Shea to ask why they’ve decided to sell the property — one of 10 developments the organization owns across CBRM — and if she worries the units, once sold, could cease being affordable. Shea told me (by email) that when New Dawn entered the housing business more than three decades ago:

…there were few, if any, other organizations or individuals that had the capacity to build and manage these kinds of housing complexes. That isn’t the case now as the community continues to grow and it begins to feel like we’re starting to move beyond survival and scarcity.

I’m sure there are other developers who could offer “affordable” housing, but do they? Have you heard the word “affordable” mentioned in connection with any local housing development recently? Because I haven’t.

Shea said they interviewed prospective buyers:

…in the hopes of finding a buyer who would continue to take good care of the people living at Sadler Court. Some of these people have been part of the New Dawn family for decades and so they were at the centre of our decision-making.

And they believe the buyers they seem to have settled on (the sale is not yet final) are prepared to take such care. She then said that Sadler Court was not “officially affordable housing.”

For some time now the Province has been moving from a model where they subsidize landlords/buildings to where they subsidize tenants directly (giving tenants more choice in where they live and allowing the subsidy to move with them if they chose to move).

It remains an imperfect system (with not enough subsidies and the subsidies not being enough to bridge the gap between 30% of tenants’ income and the cost of rent in some situations), but the principle of giving tenants choice in where they live seems to be a good one.

Any tenants who currently receive a rent subsidy currently would carry this over to/with their new landlord.

Sadler Court may not “officially” be affordable housing but New Dawn has certainly been billing it as such (see above.) And I think “imperfect” is a generous description of the problems with provincial rent subsidies, which any housing advocate can tell you are laughably inadequate. As for the principle of “choice,” it’s too big a topic for this Fast & Curious item, but it’s the argument behind a lot of very bad things (like Charter Schools and deregulated power grids).

But to be fair, this is a gripe I have not with New Dawn but with the Province of Nova Scotia, which has built almost no “non-market” or “public” or “affordable” housing since the ’90s, leaving low-income people free to “choose” from the province’s inventory of “naturally occurring affordable housing” (NOAH), that is, older buildings with safety and pest issues.

I hope, for the sake of the Sadler Court tenants, that the new owners don’t, despite anything they might have told New Dawn in their pre-purchase interview, immediately jack up the rents.

 

Deed restrictions

Speaking of affordable housing and government’s role therein, I was reading about the municipality of Barrington, Rhode Island, which has established a $500,000 fund to allow it to purchase homes in the town, renovate them and then offer them as “deed-restricted affordable housing.” According to Local Housing Solutions, a US non-profit advising on housing policy, deed-restrictions are used to:

…safeguard the long-term value to the community of the initial investment in affordable homeownership by limiting any subsequent sales of the home to income-eligible borrowers at an affordable price.

Before you say that’s too rich for the CBRM’s blood, let me remind you that at the end of 2020, Canada’s federal government offered millions of dollars in funding for affordable housing projects. Moreover, this week, the CBRM closed a tender sale for 69 properties (many of which have water and sewer service) at starting prices of $600 or one year’s taxes, whichever is higher. Sadly, no one in the municipality suggested connecting those dots.

Barrington, Rhode Island Town Hall

Barrington, Rhode Island Town Hall (Photo by Daderot, CC0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The federal program benefited municipalities (and non-profits and First Nations) that had projects ready to proceed. The CBRM had no such projects because we haven’t been thinking pro-actively about affordable housing — although we should have been, because three years ago, in January 2018, when we thought we might actually get a CBRM Charter, CBU Prof Tom Urbaniak proposed the notion of a municipal land trust. As I reported at the time:

Urbaniak’s property idea is very cool — we could create a community land trust and take over vacant or tax delinquent properties, “sell some, use some, use the sales proceeds to tackle the delinquency problem.”

But the closest the municipality has come to viewing tax-delinquent properties as a potential source of affordable housing seems to be the notion expressed by District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger to the Post:

Bruckschwaiger said they are starting to see a trend of more mini homes setting up on small former company home lots.

“It’s a little cheaper way for some people to get housing without getting into basements and foundations and all that,” he said. “There’s more room for something like that and they look great on these lots (and) fit well.”

I just looked up a new two-bedroom, one bathroom “mini home” and it would set you back $138,900.

Mind you, Bruckschwaiger didn’t say “affordable,” he said, “a little cheaper.”

So I guess we’ll just have to wait for the federal government to open up a funding stream for municipalities looking to make housing “a little cheaper” for residents.

 

Really, minister?

Brendan Maguire

Brendan Maguire

Nova Scotia’s new municipal affairs minister is okay with CBRM council’s recent closed-door planning meetings.

According to the CBC, Brendan Maguire told reporters Thursday:

As long as they’re not breaking laws and rules and regulations within the MGA [Municipal Government Act], and they were told that they weren’t, then, you know, the MGA is very straightforward. If they’re following the MGA, then we’re good.

But according to the Post, he didn’t, himself,  actually approve the meetings:

Personally no one reached out to me to ask for permission.

But he understands:

They’ve had consultations with their own legal counsel, who have a firm grasp of the MGA, and they were given the thumbs up by their own legal counsel.

Which is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because Municipal Affairs told me just last week that when in doubt about the “rules and regulations within the MGA,” a municipality should get “independent [emphasis mine] legal advice” on the matter and now it’s suddenly “ask your municipal solicitor?”

The same municipal solicitor, Demetri Kachafanas, who sat through closed-door sessions with a previous council while they discussed their own salaries — an incontrovertible breach of the MGA? (And who, let’s not forget, threatened legal action against any councilor who publicly criticized him over this.)

Maguire also apparently stated that Municipal Affairs would:

…get involved if there’s any type of funds or programs that would fall under Municipal Affairs. But these are independent forms of government, and they have to act independently.

Which suggests we’re moving past that whole “creatures of the province” thing, so that’s exciting.

Honestly, how am I supposed to satirize stuff that already reads like an episode of “Yes, Minister?”

 

What’s up, dock?

Big happenings at the Port of Sydney — it welcomed the first vessel at its as-yet-unfinished (water and electrical work still underway) second berth.

The $20 million structure, which was supposed to welcome the world’s biggest cruise ships has instead welcomed a decommissioned car ferry:

MV Madeline

MV Madeleine at second berth. (Photo by Tom Ayers via Twitter)

 

You almost have to feel sorry for Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher, forced to try and make lemonade from this:

It feels good. It in no way can ever make up for the loss of revenue that we have from cruise, but it’s promising and I think this is just the start of many opportunities.

Really? We might be able to attract other vessels on their way to the scrapyard?

Usher says she the MV Madeleine will remain at the new berth indefinitely. (She believes it will be sold. I’ve asked the Feds what they plan to do with the vessel but as of press time had not received a response. Wait! This just in from CTMA, the company that operates the ferry:  the vessel will remain at the dock until Transport Canada’s call for tenders to scrap it is complete.)

The nearly 40-year-old car ferry, which most recently plied the waters between Souris, PEI and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, has reached the end of its service life. The Canadian government has contracted Quebec’s Davie shipyard to build a replacement vessel (to be called the MV Jean Lapierre after the federal cabinet minister who was killed in a plane crash in 2016 en route to the Madeleines for his father’s funeral) but that is not expected to be completed until 2026. (Davie is also building a replacement for the MV Holiday Island, one of two Cariboo-Wood Islands ferries.) While waiting for the new Souris-Îles-de-la-Madeleine vessel, the government has paid $155 million for the MV Villa de Teror, which will be renamed the MV Madeleine II (a good idea, I think, “Teror” — a town in the Canary Islands — is too close to “terror” for comfort).

The MV Madeleine II is bigger than its predecessor — it can carry 1,500 passengers and 300 vehicles, compared to 750 passengers and 200 vehicles for the Madeleine.

The vessel had a rocky start to life — it was commissioned by the Finnish cruise line Viking in 2007 (which is why it was built to Ice Class 1A specifications) but wasn’t actually completed until 2019, by which time Viking was no longer in the picture. It ended up in service with Trasmediterránea, a Spanish company providing passenger and cargo connections to the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, Morocco and Algeria. Its last owner was another Spanish company, Naviera Transcantabrica SL.

The vessel is apparently both “environmentally sound and accessible to the disabled.” It even has a swimming pool, as you can see in this short (French) video tour:

I wonder what the Government of Canada will do with it once the new Souris- Îles-de-la-Madeleine ferry is in service?