Proposed Labrador seniors complex hits funding snag

·3 min read

A group looking to provide seniors housing in Labrador West hit a hurdle recently, but they aren’t deterred.

Last year a group calling themselves Labrador West Pioneers Living Inc. formed, looking for ways to provide affordable housing for seniors in western Labrador. Initially they were looking at building cottages but then another player entered the discussions. Labrador City native Matt Sullivan purchased the defunct Captain William Jackman Hospital in Labrador City in 2018, with plans to redevelop it into housing for seniors. The two groups connected, saw the common goals they had and moved forward together.

Carson Gibson, a member of Labrador West Pioneers Living Inc., said they had been looking at funding opportunities and decided to apply for the Rapid Housing Initiative, a federally funded program through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

It provided $500 million for projects in northern Canada and Gibson said it was a good fit. Unfortunately they were not approved, he said, and were told there were more than 650 applicants asking for approximately $4.2 billion. Now, they’re looking at modifying the application, scaling it down a bit from the initial 60 apartments in the two buildings on the property, and looking for other sources of funding, be it under a second round of this program or another.

“We were looking at using the two buildings to put the apartments in but what we’ve decided to do now is use just one to begin, with less units and less cost,” he said. “Hopefully, that will help and we can get funding this time.”

Sullivan, a practicing physiotherapist in the area, said the issue for getting seniors housing in the region has always been one of cost, with no developer being able to make a solid business case for it.

When he purchased the hospital, Sullivan knew there would have to be funding from some levels of government to turn it into housing for seniors that’s also affordable. Beyond the potential funding from CMHC they are looking at other funding from different levels of government.

“It’s a community project and we’re trying to fill that need,” he said. “In the past it’s been looked at as a business case, but the way we’re looking at it we’re trying to fill a need in the community and it’s likely going to take community effort to do it, as opposed to a private developer coming into do it. The cost is so high it wouldn’t make sense from a business perspective to just develop it privately.”

He said the cost assessment they had done showed the cost of renovating the hospital at just shy of $40 million and for a private company to do that and try to recoup the cost it would make the cost of the apartments too high for people to afford.

Sullivan said if they do move forward with the scaled-back plan for only one building, be it the hospital or the old doctors annex, they are still planning to use the other building in the future and as well as providing cottage-style apartments for people.

“What it comes down to is cost-per-unit and right now that’s quite high. We’re working in an old building, using the existing structure of it and now the architects are looking at it trying to decide which will give us the best bang for our buck.”

The plan for the annex is to turn it into condo-style apartments with the hospital itself being used for people who require more of an assisted living scenario.

He said they have had a lot of interest in the project from the community and believe it’s sorely needed.

“There’s a desperate need for something like this for seniors here,” he said. “We’re hopeful it can help keep people in the community and even bring back people who have left because there was nothing here for them.”

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram