Gottingen project moves forward despite lack of funding

Dal prof says new condo will “open up” the neighbourhood

October 9, 2010- The Dalhousie Gazette

Some residents oppose the new condo. (Photo: Samantha Durnford)

Laura Conrad, News Editor and Samantha Durnford, Assistant News Editor

A combination of factors have made Gottingen Street on of the most feared neighborhoods in Halifax.

Dalhousie architecture professor Grant Wanzel says the area has suffered from being a “dumping ground for public and social housing.” Cole Webber, a local resident, says “gentrification in Halifax’s historic north end is shaped by racism. It goes back to the razing of Africville and subsequent relocation of many of its residents to the Uniacke Square and Mulgrave Park housing projects,” he says.

Wanzel is currently working to address the systemic issues in the area by implementing housing projects on Gottingen and surrounding areas.

Wanzel is the president of the Creighton/Gerrish Development Association (CGDA), a non-profit developer that seeks to combine community initiatives with economic development. Wanzel believes that by providing affordable housing units to lower and middle-income individuals, the entire community will benefit. Wanzel says the Gottingen Street initiative can be used as a model for underdeveloped areas across the region and across the country.

“We began working on a stage four development in 1998,” says Wanzel. “We’ve completed three parts of what we proposed to do.”

First, CGDA completed an 18-unit building at the corner of Buddy Daye and Gottingen Street that provides low-income housing for “hard to house” single people. The building was open in 2002 and is owned and operated by the Metro Non-Profit Housing Association.

In 2004, CGDA completed 6 semi-detached units on Creighton Street, and in 2008 they finished a 12-unit building at the corner of Creighton and Buddy Daye.

Wanzel says the overall intention of the project is to provide some affordable housing for low-income individuals, while at the same time, not losing any social housing. Wanzel believes these projects have already benefitted the area.

“The three projects have already had a considerable impact on the neighborhood, just in terms of stabilizing it,” says Wanzel.

CGDA’s fourth project is scheduled to begin construction in fall, 2010 and to be open by 2011. This final phase is a 48-unit condominium called Gottingen Terrace, which will be built facing the North Branch library. He says the condos will provide home ownership opportunities to people from the neighborhood.

Webber, who is a founding member of the Nova Scotia Common Front for Housing says that most people in the north end who rent don’t see home or condo ownership as a viable financial option.

“When people who could never afford to own see condos going up on Gottingen, they see development that is not in their interest,” Webber says. “And they are rightly concerned that condos will raise property values, and therefore the cost of rent,” which could push them out of the neighbourhood altogether.

Wanzel says home ownership opportunities will bring balance to a community that has a very high concentration of rental properties, of which 50 per cent are social and public housing.

“What we’re doing by providing affordable home ownership and diversifying the tenancies is a very positive thing for the neighbourhood,” says Wanzel. “Part of the aspiration is to provide alternative accommodation and, instead of just paying rent, to give people equity in something.”

This final phase of the project may be the most difficult for Wanzel, due to a lack of financial assistance from the province.

“We received government assistance for the first three projects,” says Wanzel. “As it is, we wont receive any for the fourth project. The only grants we’ve received are ones we’ve put together ourselves.”

The lack of provincial funding means that Gottingen Terrace may not be targeted to low-incomes people.

“If we were receiving deeper assistance from the province, it’d be possible for the households with somewhat lower incomes to access home ownership,” says Wanzel.

Webber agrees that provincial funding is a problem.

“Governments at all levels are withdrawing from their responsibility for social provision, including that of decent, affordable housing for poor and working people,” he says.

“Tenancy legislation in Nova Scotia provides little protection for tenants, there’s no rent control, and no effective enforcement of basic housing conditions. The majority of new housing developments are for-profit and often unaffordable to people in the neighbourhood,” he says. “The few small non-profit developments going up are too small in scale to alleviate the crisis.”

Because Gottingen Terrace will consist of middle-income housing, the project has received negative feedback from some community members.

This is clear from the graffiti displayed on the large sign that once read “Gottingen Terrace – Coming Soon.” The sign has since been vandalized and now displays the black spray-painted words, “Don’t be pushed out.”

Hazen Fry, who is a resident of Creighton Street, explains that the sign’s words refer to locals who are concerned about losing the low-income housing opportunities in their neighbourhood.

“This is not going to benefit the city as a whole, just people who can afford condos,” Hazen says. “If you’re already from a middle-class family, then you might see this as beneficial.”

Despite the criticism, Wanzel still believes the final phase of the project will be just as successful as the others implemented by CGDA.

“The neighborhood has suffered a lot. It suffered through urban renewal, which basically destroyed it. Recently, as the condos have begun to develop and small businesses are starting to take route again, there is some hope that the neighborhood will be opened up, and will itself open up to the rest of the city.”

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