At the speakers' table were HRP inspector Carolyn Nichols, emergency management officer Erica Fleck, downtown Dartmouth councillor Sam Austin, and Halifax’s director of facilities John McPherson.
At the speakers' table were HRP inspector Carolyn Nichols, emergency management officer Erica Fleck, downtown Dartmouth councillor Sam Austin, and Halifax’s director of facilities John McPherson.

Dartmouth community meeting about modular housing brings out the NIMBYs

Local gentrifiers came to share their thoughts on emergency shelters with Sam Austin and Erica Fleck.

Last night at the Zatzman Sportsplex, community members from downtown Dartmouth gathered to air their complaints to, and ask questions of, Halifax officials about 24 modular housing units, the location of which had recently been announced as just off Alderney Drive. The community meeting kicked off in the Nantucket room just after 7pm, with more than 50 people in attendance.

At the front of the room sat four Halifax municipal representatives: Halifax Regional Police inspector Carolyn Nichols, emergency management officer and current housing and homelessness administrator Erica Fleck, District 5 downtown Dartmouth councillor Sam Austin, and Halifax’s director of facilities John McPherson.

Removing their masks to speak in turn, councillor Austin began by thanking everyone for coming and explaining, as he told The Coast last week, that this meeting wasn’t for debating whether the modular units would be installed, but about addressing problems and finding solutions because they were definitely getting installed.

“I think we all feel this tension at times, it’s very easy to be in favour, I bet if I polled this room not a single one of you would say that we don’t need housing for the homeless, everybody would agree that’s an essential service, we need that,” said Austin. “It becomes a harder thing when you’re talking about it in your neighbourhood.”

Erica Fleck, to Austin’s right, spoke next, explaining that she’d only answer questions about the Dartmouth modular project, which the current estimated opening date for is December 20.

“So Alderney and Church, we ended up, it was the only place in Dartmouth that we could find with the correct zoning,” Fleck said. “So zoning is an issue for everybody and it’s no different for HRM, we have to follow the zoning laws, they’re provincial, and that’s really how we came to where we are. It was the only option that was left on the table.“

The 24 units were confirmed in early November to be heading to a parking lot in Dartmouth next to the Alderney ferry terminal. At the same time, Out of the Cold was named as the official service provider for the units. Two representatives from Out of the Cold, board chair Eric Jonsson and project coordinator for the Dartmouth modulars Kat Stein, were in attendance at the meeting, but they sat in the crowd, not at the speaker’s table.

As Fleck ended her update about the modulars, the floor was given to residents to speak. While councillor Austin said on his blog that only residents of the “immediate area” were allowed to come, addresses were not checked at the door.

A man approached the microphone first, giving his name as Don and asking how temporary the units would be, given the municipality has advertised them as temporary housing.

“Three to five years,” responded Fleck, evoking whispers around the room.

Next up, a woman named Maria walked up to the mic, and asked if the community members could be given the police officer’s contact info for “anything untowards that we need to report.” Inspector Nichols said she brought business cards and was happy to distribute them after the meeting, as well as information for community response officer Kim Chambers.

In total, 22 community members spoke over the course of the evening. Most shared the sentiments of Don and Maria, and at least two women said they live in the luxury Avery condo building on Alderney Drive.

“We were finally safe in Dartmouth and now you’re taking it all away,” said one of the Avery residents. “What can we expect in terms of prevention?” asked the other, saying she wanted to feel safe walking her dog.

But at least three people spoke of how they wanted to connect with the residents of the modular units, or how they have already built connections with those living in tents and tiny shelters. “I walk my dogs regularly through those parking lots to get to the ferry terminal and I’ve had so many good interactions with those guys at the end of Shore Road,” one resident said. “Actually in the morning, I would look for them to see if they were there because we would say hi.”

As questions turned to asking about the plan for services at the modulars, Jonsson and Stein from Out of the Cold also took turns at the mic to give answers.

“We want to bring in people from the community, we’re always looking for people to help out if they can and just have conversations,” said Jonsson, who’s been working and volunteering at OtC for almost eight years. “Once you get to talk to people who are struggling with mental health, or struggling with addictions, they’re not scary.”

When asked what the 24 occupants would “do all day,” Stein listed everything from art therapy to cooking together to just hanging out and building community. Stein said the modular units would be a lot different than what currently exists at the Gray Arena and at encampments. “Those weren’t homes,” they said, “these will be homes for people.”

Austin and Fleck weren’t immune to criticism; one resident even tried to ask the crowd for a show of hands who would be voting for Austin in the next municipal election. Four people raised their hands, but Austin said he didn’t even know if he was running yet.

After over an hour and a half of questions and responses, the meeting came to a close. The overall consensus seemed to be that most upper-class Dartmouth residents were fearful of change, had never spoken with an unhoused person, and would soon be putting those police contacts on speed dial.

The highlight of the meeting was Ed, a tall older man who’s presumably a realtor or developer, who told Austin he offered his “services” but never heard back. Austin stifled a chuckle and responded that Ed’s suggestion was to put the modular units in Chezzetcook, perfectly describing the “out of sight, out of mind” outlook that drives the NIMBY ideology.

About The Author

Victoria Walton

Once a freelancer, Victoria has been a full-time reporter with The Coast since April 2020, covering everything from COVID-19 to small business to politics and social justice. Originally from the Annapolis Valley, she graduated from the University of King’s College School of Journalism in 2017.

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