KENTVILLE, NS - A proposed affordable housing project could be a political hot potato for Kentville town council.
John Apfeld of Summa Management Consulting Services made a presentation to council regarding the Open Arms Village proposal at the Oct. 9 council advisory committee (CAC) session.
Councillor John Andrew, executive director of Open Arms, declared a conflict of interest and didn’t participate in the council discussion or resulting vote.
Apfeld outlined the development proposed for the 3.5-acre former Kentville Christian Reform Church property on Oakdene Avenue. It would involve 60 units in four new buildings and the existing church. The development would be geared toward low-income families, seniors and students. Half of the units would have competitive rental rates while the others would feature lower-than-market rates.
Although there is currently no draft development agreement before council for consideration, Open Arms has requested that the town contribute to the project by bringing water and sewer services from Cornwallis Street up Lynwood Avenue to the rear property line and rehabilitating the road. This would cost an estimated $163,000. The other option presented was a property tax abatement but town council is not at liberty to grant such a request.
Mayor Sandra Snow pointed out that approving the ask would add 2.5 cents to every $100 of assessed property value for all town ratepayers. Later, on the motion of Coun. Craig Gerrard, council voted to have Open Arms fill out a grant application for the funding request in time for the November CAC meeting.
No one spoke against the proposal during the public comment period following the meeting but a few people spoke in favour. Eidson Cogswell of Kentville said he realizes that Andrew is in a conflict of interest but he feels that other councillors may be as well.
“I was just curious as to how many of the council members were landlords that made their income off of rentals in the Kentville area, because wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest also?” Cogswell said. “You put 60 more units on the market and they’re going to have a little bit of a harder time renting out their places.”
Irene Calkin of Kentville said she believes the town needs the affordable housing project. She would appreciate living in a senior’s apartment building where she could enjoy the company of others in a common area, as is proposed. Calkin feels the Open Arms Village would fill a senior’s housing void in Kentville.
Calkin said she knows from working at the Open Arms resource centre that there are a lot of people struggling financially but maybe they could make it work with affordable housing.
“Stop and think where you came from and stop and think where you want your own children to be if they ran into a financial problem and the choices available,” Calkin said.
Heather Keddy of New Minas spoke to the lack of affordable housing in the area. She said she works for 60 hours a week and is just squeezing by financially when it comes to rent and other expenses.
“If this was available, I would have my name on the list,” Keddy said. “I definitely would not mind living in this community.”
She believes that people have attached a stigma to the name Open Arms and if someone else was proposing the development and requesting funding from the town, people would look at it differently and it would enjoy wider community support.
The town is compiling correspondence regarding the matter, although it was pointed out at the Oct. 9 session that three pieces are currently unaccounted for. The town has received 14 letters or emails representing 16 individuals in support of the project. One piece of correspondence against the project has been received – a petition with 107 signatures submitted by Suzanne Burgoyne-Riawetz.
According to the petition, these individuals from the north side of town perceive the neighbourhood to be fully integrated pertaining to affordable or low-income housing and seniors housing “at all socio-economic levels.”
“To initiate this project will arbitrarily marginalize our locality and ultimately affect real estate value,” the petition states.