Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Tax Sales

If the list of 104 properties — including 38 buildings  — up for tax sale in the CBRM has you wondering why CBRM doesn’t look into sourcing government funding for affordable housing and refurbishing some of them, you are not alone. I have long wondered about this too.

30 Wesley Street, Sydney, NS

This house at 30 Wesley Street in Sydney is up for tax sale. (The photo was taken from Google Maps, which captured the image in 2012)

But when I suggested the possibility to CBU professor and housing advocate Catherine Leviten-Reid during the discussion that’s formed the basis of a number of articles in recent weeks, she said this always comes up when she’s “anywhere talking about homelessness and housing in CBRM” and in fact, it’s a subject she had addressed in a paper. She sent me the relevant passages, in which she first explained the source of our excess properties:

During the last century, housing stock was built in response to rapid industrialization and in-migration. Census data show a population decline of approximately 33,000 people over the past 50 years but the built environment still reflects this larger population. This mismatch makes it very difficult to sell properties, and owners, who have moved away or inherited second homes and see no future increases in property value based on local conditions, may abandon this housing instead of paying municipal taxes, particularly if buildings require repair.

Then she outlined the process in place in CBRM for dealing with tax delinquency:

Properties whose owners are in tax arrears for more than two years are put on a tax sale list three times. However, potential buyers may be deterred because they must pay back taxes in addition to the market value of the property. Properties that fail to sell through this process may be auctioned off by the municipality at less than market values; in this scenario, new owners are not held accountable for the delinquency.

Then she explained why these properties are not optimal for refurbishment:

Still, because the condition of the housing has deteriorated further and there is limited-to-no increase in property value foreseen, these buildings are unattractive to private investors, and are expensive for the non-profit sector to repair. Additionally, low-income renter households are precluded from transitioning to homeownership given the financial means required to renovate and maintain a home. In fact, a local study [MacLeod et al 2014] exploring revitalization through affordable homeownership concluded that this strategy was not recommended.

Which is not to say there couldn’t be changes to the system to put such houses into the non-profit sector faster, or to use the land for construction of new units or to dedicate the monies raised from such sales to housing — there are lots of possibilities worth considering.


Seventh Exchange

I had never received a press release from Membertou — until yesterday at 8:23 a.m., when this hit my inbox:

Membertou 7th Exchange press release

That is to say, less than 24 hours after my story about Membertou having borrowed $6.8 million from a private lender that was placed in receivership in April, I get a good news announcement  that really feels like it was taken out of the oven a bit too soon.

The development in question has been the subject of wild speculation around town for a number of years — at one point the rumor mill had Costco as the anchor tenant — so the revelation that the first identified operations will be a service station (“inclusive of a food and beverage partner”) and a “Green Diamond Equipment outlet” is kind of…anti-climactic.

Seventh Exchange, according to the digital sales kit I accessed on the website, will be “an inclusive and intentional” retail site and Phase 1 apparently looks like this:

Phase 1, Seventh Exchange, Membertou
It’s all kind of underwhelming at this point, but it’s Membertou, and Membertou has a way of making good on its promises. (And for the record, I don’t think the implications of the Bridging Finance scandal are necessarily that serious for Membertou, the most likely scenario seems to be that someone else will buy the loan, although the wisdom of doing business with Bridging Finance might be up for debate.)

The bottom line, of course, is that the press release served its purpose — local outlets all picked it up and ran with the “news,” as thin as it was.

There’s another bottom line, though, and I feel like I need to address it. I don’t tend to cover Membertou issues and have wandered into this one because it overlapped with an issue I do cover, obsessively, the container port project. I have always believed that to cover Membertou properly required a reporter from Membertou and that conviction, believe me, is stronger than ever right now.


Ports have feelings too

I have disappointed the Port of Sydney.

I know this because the Port of Sydney’s Twitter account told me yesterday it was disappointed in me and I still haven’t quite come to terms with how I feel about disappointing a port. (Ashamed? Proud?)

The source of the Port’s disappointment in me was, of course, a ship. Or more precisely, my response to its tweet about a ship — the Acadia Desgagnés, which I described, using the lowest form of humor, as the latest “impressive” visitor to our “$20 million second berth.” Here’s the Port’s original tweet:

The Port of Sydney told me it was “disappointed” that I continued to be “negative” about it and invited me down to meet its staff and have a chat about all the good things they do. My job then, I suppose, would be to come back and tell my readers about all these good things.

I’m going to respectfully decline.

But others jumped into the thread to explain that the Acadia Desgagnés is not the rust bucket she appears to be and if not precisely “impressive” is not — like the last visitor to the second berth — on her way to the scrap yard. Far from it. She was built in 2013 (specs here) and is rusty, according to Peter Ziobrowski at the Halifax Shipping News, because she “runs the locks on the Saint Lawrence seaway” which are hard on ships’ paint.

Mac Mackay at the Shipfax blog had a post about the Acadia Desgagnés in May 2020:

The cargo ship Acadia Desgagnés…has been working under the Barbados flag for the winter and is returning to Canadian flag for the summer…The ship is a multi-purpose general cargo/bulk carrier and is reinforced for heavy cargoes, and unloading by grabs. It was built in 2013 by Shandong Baibuting, Rongcheng and comes in at 7875 gt, 11,353 dwt with two 40 tonne capacity cranes. It was originally to be named Montelena but was renamed BBT Ocean and then Sider Tis in 2013. Desgagnés acquired and renamed the ship in 2017. It was registered in St. John’s, NL unlike most other ships of the fleet, that are registered in Quebec ports. The ship is used in bulk trades around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, such as salt from Pugwash, NS…

The vessel is also used, in summer, to supply arctic communities. The Group Desgagnés, in cooperation with Nunavut Sealink & Supply Inc (NSSI), is part of Nunavut’s dry cargo re-supply program each year. An activity summary of the program from 2017 (the year Desgagnés acquired the Acadia Desgagnés) says NSSI carried out “27 northbound trips with their fleet of eight ships from Côte Ste Catherine and Becancour.” Of these, “11 were dedicated community re-supply trips, 16 dedicated mine support trips.”

The Acadia Desgagnés is referenced by name once: the report notes that NSSI had brought in four new dry cargo vessels, three of which were deployed to the Arctic in 2017, including the Acadia Desgagnés which is “somewhat smaller than the other ships in the fleet and also only has a 1D ice class.” 

The vessel seems to rate a mention by Halifax harbor watchers whenever she shows up, so I have to say it’s fair game of the Port to note that she’s in Sydney — but if you are the person behind the Port Twitter account, maybe tell us something about her instead of posting a photo highlighting her rusty hull?

And maybe stop using the Port account to express your personal disappointment in reporters?