A positive impact

A positive impact

< Back to Articles | Topics: Spotlight | Contributors: Pam Sullivan | Published: February 1, 2024

Housing issues around Halifax and the province as a whole have far-reaching implications for most communities, and increasingly for those traditionally not impacted by these typically more urban issues.

Black communities located around HRM and throughout the province are now facing their own dilemmas around the housing crisis and the challenges it brings with it.

In response, the Province, just this past November, announced an additional $2 million to be allocated to the Community Housing Growth fund and dedicated toward the development of Black community-driven housing solutions.

In April 2022 the Nova Scotia government announced the Community Housing Growth Fund — a $2.5 million investment to “strengthen the sector and grow the number of non-profit housing units in Nova Scotia.” This recent additional funding — earmarked for Black community housing — will allocate community grants across a three-year timeline and assist communities in capacity building, planning and pre-development, and research and innovation.

All funding is managed by the Community Housing Transformation Centre.

MLA for Preston, Twila Grosse, who says the fund, in part, acknowledges past inequities in housing for Black communities, said it made sense to incorporate direct representation in the decision-making process.

“Grants will be approved by a dedicated selection committee that will include African Nova Scotians, the whole idea being that for this particular initiative, the fund will be Black-led and also Black-focused,” she says.

She also agrees that the fund allows Black communities to start the process of designing a housing roadmap for what they themselves feel they need in their own communities.

“The idea is to try to make sure that potential housing development happening in Black communities, well, that the impact won’t be negative, but rather, positive, allowing them to stay as thriving Black communities – and not be forced out or displaced by development and a lack of affordability,” Grosse says.

One group which will be using the fund to inform and improve upon future builds is Dartmouth’s Akoma Holdings Incorporated, which, under the auspices of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children (NSHCC), in 2014 acquired the assets of the NSHCC, including 310 acres of property. Akoma Property consultant, Sunday Miller, says the newly-earmarked funding will allow the group, which builds affordable housing for Black families, to build better.

“We’re using (the grant) for a geotechnical study on other lands that we’re looking at developing,” Miller says. “In the past, with the rapid housing initiative and the tight timeline, there were things we weren’t able to do, like have a geotechnical study. At that time, if we’d been able to get a study, we probably wouldn’t have built where we did because of the shale and rock that was just underneath.”

Another community which has accessed both grants is the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Land Trust. The group’s mission, as presented on their website is “Preserving and Protecting our Historic community,” a telling part of the story, as well as the larger worries and issues facing not only this traditionally Black community, but others like it around HRM and the province.

Founder of the land trust (and ongoing member-volunteer) Curtis Whiley, who also works as Manager, Land Titles Initiative, with the Provincial government, is pleased with the recent funding announcement, but also says it barely scratches the surface of the issue Black communities and land trusts are facing when it comes to the housing challenges now impacting their communities.

“Some of this funding, these grants are to help with very preliminary organizing, the organizing of communities — to just even start talking about how we want to improve our communities, to make them work better for us in the future, including housing,” Whiley says.

A complicated affair, Whiley says that though a good start, most communities will need help not only getting organized, but knowing how to move ahead in the first place — a sentiment echoed by Dr. Lynn Jones, Order of Canada recipient and founder of the DowntheMarsh Community Land Trust in Truro.

“I’m in no way, shape or form any kind of housing expert, organizer or what have you, and there’s no yardstick, there’s no manual, like ‘first do this, then that,’ and that’s the kind of help we need,” says Jones. “Oftentimes, you don’t even know that you don’t even know.”

Though pleased to see the funding, Jones admits to also being frustrated at the lack of understanding at just how complicated and costly even getting the initial relationships up and running is for groups like DownTheMarsh or the Upper Hammonds Plain Land Trust, adding that their first funding — which they received in 2022, allowed them to get off the ground only to have them start almost from scratch once that funding ran out.

“Last December, to get a bit of a startup, we hired two consultants — one a lawyer and one a community development person, which was fabulous to have, then the funding ends,” she says. “This is the terrible thing about nonprofits — you lose the people. I like to say I train them for somebody else. They’re just gone. And now, with this funding, we’re having to start from scratch again.”

Both Whiley and Jones share common worries, hopes, and concerns about the communities they love and are trying to protect. Both once primarily Black communities, with housing pressures and developers looking farther and farther afield to develop, they’re struggling to hold back the incoming tide of development which they say is overtaking, and in some ways, forever changing the face of their communities.

“In terms of actual residents, there are several hundred, but now there are thousands of people living in Upper Hammonds Plains,” says Whiley. “And there’s significant development pressure. That’s why we had to rezone, but still, 985 units got approved, so, we’ll see thousands more people moving into our community.”

Whiley says that because his community has not been part of any planning practices, and because of general use zoning, the area became “very valuable to developers.”

What Whiley, Jones, and Miller would like to see happen going forward, along with ongoing funding, is greater assistance for Black communities to advocate and plan on behalf of their communities in a more efficient and effective way. And though that may look slightly different, depending upon the community or development needs, the one thing they’re all looking for is a respect for and an understanding of the past experiences and unique needs of Black communities.

“I think we need to talk about an afro-centric approach to things. And I say, well, we don’t even know. We know something, but this is the whole idea of why we got into this mess,” Jones says. “From a historical and cultural perspective that been denied us, we’re very much in a Eurocentric environment. And we’ve adopted a Eurocentric way.”

This Eurocentric way, says Jones, doesn’t acknowledge Black community differences — such as working relationships with family members, and housing that allows for multigenerational living.

Additionally, says Whiley, there’s the issue and challenge of representation.

“We don’t have a single African Nova Scotian planner in Nova Scotia, or representation in fields required in development, so planning, architecture, engineering, site planning, or surveying,” he says. “And I do a lot of surveying with the land title’s initiative.”

But challenges aside, Whiley and Jones will be pushing ahead and putting the new housing initiative grant to good use. And though Whiley obviously sees the challenges he’s also excited about the future of his community.

“We want our community to grow, and we’re excited for development. We see Upper Hammonds Plains as a beautiful place that should be shared with more people,” he says. “It’s just the way public policy is formed around these activities. It leads us to have an adversarial relationship because we have to advocate rather than facilitating a partnership.”

This coming year, says Whiley, the group is excited at the possibility of acquiring parcels of historical land, which he says is the crucial first step to an actual development.

“If we’re able to get titles to that land then we’ll be able to do pre-development planning and go back to the growth fund because we’ll actually have the land to start developing and building our community our way — in the words of one famous American…by the people, for the people.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Spotlight

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