Affordable homes built on site of former Home for Colored Children

Michelle Simmons holds the keys to her new home in Dartmouth, N.S. (Taryn Grant/CBC - image credit)
Michelle Simmons holds the keys to her new home in Dartmouth, N.S. (Taryn Grant/CBC - image credit)

Michelle Simmons hasn't had a home of her own in years. But that's about to change.

Simmons and her nine-year-old daughter will soon move into one of eight new homes on the eastern edge of Dartmouth. They've been staying with family since they moved home to Nova Scotia from Ontario earlier this year, unable to find accommodations they could afford.

"This has been a long time coming for me and it's just a dream come true," she said.

The homes, built with money from Ottawa and the province, are on the same property as the former Home for Colored Children – a provincially run orphanage that closed in the 1980s.

Four duplexes built on the site of the former Home for Colored Children are nearly ready for tenants to move in.
Four duplexes built on the site of the former Home for Colored Children are nearly ready for tenants to move in.

Four duplexes built on the site of the former Home for Colored Children are nearly ready for tenants to move in. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

In 2014, the province transferred the property to Akoma Holdings Inc., which made the old orphanage into a multi-use building called Kinney Place. The company is now redeveloping the surrounding 130 hectares of land.

The latest step in that redevelopment was the construction of the four duplexes where Simmons will live. The cluster is called the Fairfax homes, named for Rev. Donald E. Fairfax, a former teacher at the Home for Colored Children.

The Home for Colored Children was the only orphanage in the province that would take Black children. It was initially held up as a triumph for the Black community, but a recent multi-year inquiry uncovered physical, psychological and sexual abuse that occurred over several decades.

A final report into an inquiry of abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children will be released in March 2019.
A final report into an inquiry of abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children will be released in March 2019.

The former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. (CBC)

Former Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil apologized in 2014 for the suffering that happened at the home, and a class-action lawsuit ended with a $34-million settlement.

Tenants chosen by a committee

Akoma continues to try to right the wrongs inflicted on the Black community on the property. The Fairfax homes are reserved for Black families. Tenants are selected by a committee.

Sunday Miller, Akoma's property consultant, said the committee focused on families with young children.

"We're really trying to create a community where they're going to feel safe and secure, where they can grow. It's a generational thing that we're trying to do ... this gives people hope," she said.

Miller said the families who will move into the Fairfax homes were thrilled to learn they'd been chosen.

"It was like they had won the lottery. There was whooping and hollering."

But there were just as many families that made a short list that were not chosen. Miller said those people were devastated.

She said the fact not everyone who needed one of the homes could get one shows there's a need for more projects like this one.

Affordable rent

Each unit has two bedrooms and monthly rent is $650 to $1,000, depending on the tenant's income. Simmons, who works at a daycare, will be paying $920.

Tenants have access to a support worker to help them transition into their new home and connect them with other services such as medical, dental and substance abuse services, and income and employment support.

Construction of the homes is complete, but they aren't quite move-in ready, as they're still awaiting utility hook-ups. Miller said she hopes tenants will be able to move in next month.

The vast majority of the property remains undeveloped. Miller said the hope is to build more housing and other facilities.

A long-term care home is in the works. Other developments could require zoning changes from Halifax Regional Municipality.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Being Black in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians.
Being Black in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians.

Being Black in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians. (CBC)

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