published first in the NSAdvocate.org, 13 Oct. 2020
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The number one issue in this civic election is affordable housing. It’s on the front page of the Herald; it’s in blogs; it’s reported on in the Nova Scotia Advocate and The Halifax Examiner. It’s all over the media—people in Halifax are demanding affordable and safe housing.
There is an almost immediate fix for housing! Renovate the new Convention Centre, and turn it into nearly 200 homes.
Here’s how: On Sept. 21, the Canadian government committed to spend $1 billion over the next six months to help house the homeless, and keep others across the country from becoming homeless. Given our population is 2.75 percent of Canada’s population, Nova Scotia’s share of the federal money could amount to $27.5 million!
We can use some of that money to renovate the new Convention Centre. After all, the Halifax Examiner and the CBC have revealed that the provincial government and HRM have to bail out the Convention Centre to the tune of $5.8 million each, which totals nearly $12 million this fiscal year alone — millions more than they had bargained on. With restrictions around size of gatherings, indoor crowds at conferences, restaurant and bar limitations, and a hotel that is nowhere near complete (let alone booked) – the convention business has dried up in Halifax, and across North America. Experts are predicting next year won’t be much better.
Nova Scotia taxpayers have already paid $150 million to build the Convention Centre, and now we have to pay another $12 million to cover its losses for this year alone. And there is no use for an empty Convention Centre. As Zane Woodford of the Halifax Examiner wrote, “No event manager is making a penny, no Argyle Street bar is bathing in overflow traffic from conventions, there’s no economic impact at all but it consumes a lot of city and provincial cash that could otherwise go in much more useful directions.”
It’s time we converted the Convention Centre to affordable and accessible housing. There are more than 200,000 square feet of space, plus another 10,000 for a commercial kitchen. None of it is in use. At an average of 1,000 square feet per unit, we could build close to 200 apartments, with room for hallways, elevators and stairs.
If each apartment housed an average of 3 people – some for singles and some for families with children — we could house close to 600 people.
That would put a big dent in creating affordable housing and fighting homelessness. Of course every one of the 200 households will have to pay rent. If rent averaged $500 a month, rents alone would bring in more than $1.2 million a year. Why not? This is a good solution at our fingertips. Please ask all the District 7 candidates what they think of it.