Big changes are in store for Gottingen Street. A new non-profit group dedicated to providing affordable housing is forging ahead with a proposal for two eight- to 10-storey apartment buildings. One is on the site of the former Diamonds bar at the foot of Cunard Street, across Prince William Street from the YMCA; the second is on the site of the much-neglected MET store, Mitchell’s Enviro Treasures, a half-block south of Diamonds, between Alteregos Cafe and the Good Food Emporium.
The Housing Trust of Nova Scotia is a new organization founded by Ross Cantwell, a real estate consultant with Colliers International who has extensive experience in affordable housing agencies. The Housing Trust’s board reads like a Who’s Who of the local development industry: It includes Cantwell, developer Louis Lawen and executives associated with many of the largest property firms in Nova Scotia.
“We’ve got designers, we’ve got guys who build things, we’ve got lawyers, mortgage brokers, the whole bit,” says Cantwell, explaining that he brought together the expertise to build new housing quickly.
To purchase the land, Cantwell’s group took advantage of funding made available through a federal-provincial agreement to create more affordable housing in Nova Scotia, but construction costs will come via a normal mortgage. For that reason, the project will be a mix of below-market and market-priced apartments.
Cantwell says each building will consist of about 100 units, about half of which will be designated “affordable,” which means that residents will spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent, heat and utilities---about $200/month less than the market-priced apartments, depending on circumstance. The Gottingen Street ground level of each building will be retail and commercial space. The exact configuration of the buildings will await architectural renderings. “Right now, we’re interviewing three architects, and we hope to have one selected by next week,” says Cantwell. The goal is to start construction by the end of the year.
One potential stumbling block is that the buildings exceed the 50-foot height limits for Gottingen Street and 40-foot height limits on Maitland Street, the street one block down the hill, running along the rear of the new buildings. Cantwell says that with the 18-foot grade change and the lower height limit on Maitland, any building spanning the block would be “ridiculous looking.” The Housing Trust has asked the city for a variance, and he expects approval.
The councillor for the area, Dawn Sloane, is very supportive of granting that variance. “If it was for condos, I’d have a different feeling,” says Sloane. “But for affordable housing, to help people stay in the neighbourhood, I’m very excited.”
The sale of the Diamonds building was completed March 31 with no problems, says Cantwell.
The dilapidated MET building has been cited for repeated bylaw infractions and had over $300,000 in liens placed on it. Nearby residents have complained that the building houses rats and is generally a blight on the neighbourhood. In recent years several people have attempted to buy the building, but the deals have fallen through as MET owner Wayne Mitchell backed out of the potential sales. Cantwell too says Mitchell was putting up obstacles to an agreed-upon March 31 closing date, but just this morning (Tuesday) HRM reports it has received payment in full on the liens, meaning that the property is now formally in Housing Trust’s hands.