After nearly two years, a fund that collects money from Halifax's real estate developers is ready to pay out for affordable housing.
Applications are now open for $200,000 earmarked for non-profit organizations in the city's Affordable Housing Grant Program this year.
"We'll collect all the applications, review them with HRM staff, also folks from the housing and homelessness partnership, and then likely provide recommendations early next year," said Jill MacLellan, principal planner with the social policy group within Halifax's regional planning department.
The density bonusing fund was established in November 2019 to collect money from the largest new buildings projects in peninsular Halifax and in Dartmouth inside the Circumferential Highway.
So far, $2.7 million has been collected for affordable housing from roughly 100 large construction projects.
The application period opened Sept. 1st. Non-profit organizations can apply for funding until Dec. 1.
"This is the first round of the Affordable Housing Grant Program. So this will be our first time entering that," MacLellan said.
So far no applications have been submitted, she said.
Developer contributions based on size
Only large commercial and multi-unit residential developments need to pay density bonuses. Buildings with floor space over 2,000 square metres pay the fee.
New buildings over that size pay a fee that increases for every additional square metre, so a new condo tower with floor space of 3,000 square metres would pay a density bonus of 1,000 square metres.
The exact fee varies depending on where the building is located. As an example, a 3,000 square metre development in Halifax's South End would pay a $51,600 density bonus fee.
Sixty percent of that fee must be used for affordable housing, though the developer can direct the entire amount for that purpose.
Any money not earmarked for affordable housing is used to buy public art or fund improvements to municipal green spaces.
MacLellan is aware $200,000 is not enough money to fund new construction, but she hopes it will support affordable non-profit housing projects that are underway.
"Buildings that are already getting funding through CMHC or support through the province, $200,000 can help supplement the building of that," MacLellan said. "I think it will help projects get over the threshold to get their buildings on the ground."
The head of the YWCA in Halifax says $200,000 is a tiny fraction of what you need to build a multi-unit building.
The YWCA recently purchased a four-bedroom home to shelter victims of sex trafficking, which cost the YWCA $575,000 for the building alone.
"For $200,000, you get nothing. Let's not kid ourselves. That's not what's going to fix the affordability issue," Miia Suokonautio said.
Still Suokonautio says all funding helps.
"I will take anything. I will take your $10. I will put it toward the same end," she said.
Suokonautio hopes to access the affordable housing fund in the future to build something on a larger scale.
MacLellan said her team decided to start small to make sure the money was placed wisely.
"There is concern that if we gave money on an as-needed basis that we would exhaust the account very, very quickly. So it just provides a little bit more, I guess, measure to make sure that we're getting the money to the areas where it's most needed," she said.
MacLellan also says she has the option to go back to regional council to request more than $200,000 this year if the applications warrant it.
Development outside the core
Regional council is currently working to pass the second phase of the Centre Plan, which would regulate development for the rest of Halifax.
Package B of the Centre Plan would include density bonuses for affordable housing in those areas.
Suokonautio thinks it's unfortunate the current pot of money can't be spent outside of the city's core, because property on the peninsula and downtown Dartmouth is at a premium.
"What are we saying about people living in Sackville and their need for affordable housing? I don't understand why this disparity exists. Are we not one municipality?" she said.
District 11 Coun. Patty Cuttell introduced a motion to allow the $2.7 million in the affordable housing fund to be spent outside the city core.
She says while that motion passed, Halifax staff continue to tell her the money must be allocated in the areas where it was collected.
Part of a larger solution
Meanwhile, Jill MacLellan says she's eager to be gearing up to share the density bonus money.
"Part of me is really excited and really happy to be working in this field, and to be able to be playing some small role in helping find solutions," she said.
"Parts of me also feel as though this is a really, really big issue, and it's really overwhelming."
MacLellan says the long-term solutions for Halifax's affordable housing problems will take investments of hundreds of millions of dollars from all levels of government.
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