Architecture prof says condos will 'stabilize' neighbourhood

Provincial government won't loan money for project

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Dal architecture professor Grant Wanzel is promoting a condominium project for Gottingen Street, but it has yet to attract financial support from the Nova Scotia government. (Photo: Schenley Brown)

The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services will not assist a condominium project set for Gottingen Street -- a development critics say would revitalize the neighbourhood.

Grant Wanzel, president of the non-profit Creighton Gerrish Development Association, is leading the drive to create affordable condominiums. Wanzel specializes in housing policy, design, development, theory and history with Dalhousie University's Department of Architecture.

The proposed Gottingen Terrace development will be a four-floor, 48-unit building with one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums.

Unique payments

The proposal involves an unorthodox method of financing where owners have two mortgages. The first mortgage is paid monthly, and the second is only paid off when a unit is sold.

"What is assumed is that, when they offer it for sale, they will offer it for high enough that will not only cover their second mortgage, but also get them a profit," says Wanzel.

Part of the proposal is that all second mortgages would accumulate in a fund owned by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services. The money would be used to create other affordable housing projects.

Wanzel's association also asked the department to loan it money for construction, or to guarantee a loan arranged with a credit union. The loan would be approximately $7.4 million.

Not low enough

The department refuses to loan the money - or guarantee the loan - under the current proposal.

Dan Troke, department director, says his department looked at long-term sustainability, the target income level and whether there's demand for the project. "The only thing that we're looking at here is, are the individuals who would be going into these units below the low-income thresholds," Troke says. "The answer is no."

According to Statistics Canada, a single person living in Halifax would have to make less than $16,000 to be classified low-income. Wanzel's project targets individuals with a minimum income of about $30,000.

"This is not for very low-income people," Wanzel says. " But then home ownership is not for very low-income people, it just doesn't work."

A better community

While not serving the very poor, the project still has value. Wanzel believes it will improve the neighbourhood.

Part of the Department of Community Services' mission is to create better futures for neighbourhoods. A recent study in the International Journal of Housing Policy shows home ownership in deprived neighbourhoods makes them safer and more stable.

John Hartling believes the condominiums will be a positive addition to Gottingen Street. Hartling, director of community initiatives for Community Action on Homelessness, says "there needs to be more of this, and we need to make it into a priority and get more support behind it."

The non-profit development association won't give up. It is now in discussion with the Nova Scotia Department of Rural and Economic Development.

"What we're proposing is exciting and interesting, it's viable, it has a market, it comes at no cost to the province, it will help with stabilizing the neighbourhood. It's the right thing to do. It's the clever thing to do."

 

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