Blacks Harbour non-profit housing waits for funding approval

By Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(Submitted photo) A proposed 30-unit development at Lewis Connors Drive in Blacks Harbour, seen in a 2021 project rendering, is awaiting Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation financing approval, according to non-profit developers Project: Village Housing.

BLACKS HARBOUR – Two affordable housing projects in Blacks Harbour are awaiting final financing to get off the ground.

Mat Rouleau, director of development for Project: Village Housing, said the non-profit is waiting for its approval from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) for financing on its Lewis Connors Drive project in Blacks Harbour.

The 30-unit, two-building development was first proposed in 2021 as 24 units, but they’ve added an extra three to each building, Rouleau said. It features 15 affordable housing units, with 15 at market rent, and Rouleau said they’re under CMHC’s co-investment fund.

“It’s a bit of a slow process. We’re all excited to get the project going,” he said recently. “We’re really close to being ready to break ground … we have to wait on the different government funders to move our applications ahead.”

At the Eastern Charlotte council meeting Sept. 20, councillors voted to approve a development incentive totalling $420,000 for the project. According to chief administrative officer Jason Gaudet, the municipality is still working out how to provide that money, because they were denied a request from the province to borrow for the project.

“There’s always the concept that we would do some kind of long-term borrowing for the grant,” Gaudet said a few weeks after the meeting. “Unfortunately there’s no option for long-term financing.”

He’s called it a “setback” and that the municipality is now looking to see what it can do to either lower the cost of the grant or extend the grant period. The Municipal Capital Borrowing Board only approves the municipality’s own capital projects, he said.

“It’s very disappointing because we’re very limited in what we can do with housing grants,” he said, saying options include annual expenditures or withdrawal from reserves.

At the council meeting, Deputy Mayor David Hatt and Coun. Alexa Detorakis had asked for a month to review the developer’s agreement, saying they had only had a day to consider the document. The motion to table was defeated, with Hatt, Detorakis and Lisa McKay in support. The eventual motion to pass the agreement was unanimous.

Rouleau said he’s happy that council is making investments in housing, and described the province’s decision as a barrier to building that the province could try to alleviate.

“This is an example of things that are not working that are easy to fix,” he said.

Gaudet said the municipality has provided feedback over the issue, saying they thought amalgamation would put them in a position to support housing like this.

“One way we can spur on some housing growth is by providing these housing grants and utilizing our own borrowing authority to do so,” Gaudet said. “The whole design of (local) reform is … we see projects like that and we’re able to leverage our whole larger municipality, but that didn’t work.”

A Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission report in February said the region needs nearly 600 new housing units to accommodate for population growth.

Eastern Charlotte Mayor John Craig said it’s a “critical” moment for housing in the municipality.

“I’m hopeful, optimistic that everything’s moving ahead,” he said. “We need housing in our area so badly. We’re at the critical stage now.”

Gaudet said the municipality is at less than one per cent vacancy for housing, and zero per cent vacancy for commercial properties.

“We’re struggling on a lot of different fronts, and we’re trying to become creative and say, ‘how do we fund that,’” Gaudet said, saying that development incentives have helped, but some projects need more.

Rouleau said housing enables growth, whether it’s people moving to the area, employers needing space for workers or seniors needing to downsize.

“We’ve got calls saying, ‘I’d like to move in, when is it going to be ready?’ … I say, ‘as soon as we can,’” he said.

Project: Village Housing is a non-profit that spun off from Eastern Charlotte Waterways’ Project: Village rural community revitalization program, which also focuses on transportation and food security. It also received $25,000 in federal grant funding in February for energy-efficiency measures.

“If non-profits are building, you also see some positive social outcomes where people who are being priced out because of a tight housing market have a few more options,” Rouleau said.

The non-profit is also waiting for approval from the province before heading to the CMHC on a second development at Willow Court development, which features 12 units with mixed rents, all affordable or “slightly lower” than market. A development agreement was also approved Sept. 20.

For the Lewis Connors Drive project, the design is “very close” to completion, and with funding in hand they can go to contractors and permits.

“We are excited to get over these last few funding hurdles,” he said. “For us, we want to be spending our time building, not chasing government funding.”

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