Open Arms executive director John Andrew says the organization recently acquired the former Kentville Christian Reformed Church building and 3.5 acres of land on Oakdene Avenue for an affordable housing development. The plan is to offer lower-than-market rent rates for low-income earners.
“It’s very taxing on people to be put in that place of having to worry about where they’re going to live month-to-month,” Andrew said. “If we can put a dent into that then we’ve done something very good and we’ll be overjoyed.”
While the church building figures prominently in the plan, the first phase of development will focus on the construction of up to 40 apartments. Andrew said lower income individuals including seniors, working people and people with disabilities would represent 75 per cent of residents. The other 25 per cent would be people not facing the same financial constraints.
“There are all kinds of people in our community who are really in need of true affordability and half of these units will be fully accessible too,” he said.
Andrew said the focus is on building one-bedroom apartments but there could be some two bedroom units, which would decrease the overall number. They want to include green space and have room for gardens.
“The next two years, that will be our focus and then later on we’ll do another assessment of what the need is,” Andrew said. “If the need is greatest around families at that point, then we can readjust for the second building.”
The church building is still in great shape. Andrew said they’d like to establish a program with a live-in coordinator for people in need of life skills coaching. However, if zoning doesn’t permit this, the ground floor of the church may also be renovated into apartment units. They’re also exploring the possibility of a daycare.
Although they don’t plan to start a church, Andrew said they’d like to keep the sanctuary because it has great potential for a meeting space with seating for 250 or more people. The acoustics are great and this could be of huge benefit to the community at large.
“If we can do some things to make this building pay for itself, then we can justify keeping that,” he said.
Keeping costs and debt load to a minimum will help ensure that Open Arms is able to provide apartments with affordable rent and perhaps invest in future phases of the development. After all, there are a lot more than 40 people in the community in need of affordable housing.
“It’s a big dream and I’m thankful for our board for having the courage to go forward and say we have to do this,” Andrew said.
There is a need for community partners and corporate sponsors. Andrew said several people have came forward offering help and Open Arms is conducting a skills assessment. The hope is that a lot of the skilled work required will be donated in-kind. There will also be a capital campaign to raise funds for the project, estimated to cost in the range of $3 million.
There is a gully on the site that would have to be filled in for a future phase of development. Andrew said they’re looking for donations of clean fill for this purpose.
Barbecue for volunteers, partners, supporters
Open Arms plans to hold a barbecue for volunteers, partners and supporters at the affordable housing project site at 118 Oakdene Ave. on Aug. 27 from 4 to 6 p.m. Andrew said this would be an opportunity for people to have a walk-through and hear about what is planned for the church building and property. Everyone is welcome.