New social enterprise aims to address Inverness County housing shortage

A businessman in Port Hood, N.S., is launching a new rental housing project with the goal of helping to alleviate the housing shortage in Inverness County.

Damian MacInnis has experience in economic development with the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce and the Cape Breton Partnership, and in private business as a property manager.

"I've actually seen it first-hand," he said. "There are just not enough quality rental units throughout Inverness County."

MacInnis describes his Westside Enterprises as a for-profit social enterprise.

"Instead of really diving into private enterprise, I figured that social enterprise would make a lot more sense — really focus on the need rather than focusing on making major profits."

Over the coming weeks, he plans to hold community consultation sessions in Port Hood, Mabou and Whycocomagh to find out what type of housing units people need, and what they are willing to pay for rent.

He expects to hear from elderly people who want to move from older homes into smaller, more modern dwellings, as well as young professionals working at businesses such as the Cabot Links golf course or Port Hawkesbury Paper who are having trouble finding affordable quality housing.

'They move on'

Both are issues identified in a 2017 study that was commissioned as part of Inverness County's housing strategy.

"We would love to increase our population," said Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie. "There are professionals who would like to come and live here and work here, but if they can't find housing they move on."

MacInnis has not yet presented his proposal to municipal council, but MacQuarrie said she expects it will be warmly received.

MacInnis envisions starting with a 24-unit apartment building in Port Hood, then as the project moves forward adding others in Whycocomagh and Mabou.

He hopes to be able to work out a deal with local for-profit associations in Port Hood to secure a piece of land, and he's been working with private investors who are interested in funding the project, he said.