GUYSBOROUGH — Backed by government money and a mandate to accommodate more healthcare professionals across the province, the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia (HTNS) is poised to begin three multi-million-dollar home construction projects in Guysborough County as early as next year.
In an interview with The Journal last week, HTNS Executive Director Angela Bishop confirmed that the non-profit organization plans to build as many as 24 modular rental houses in Guysborough and Canso, and is expecting to spend “a ballpark $300,000” per unit.
“We haven’t set a [budget] ceiling in Guysborough,” she said. “A shortage of ready-to-develop land for modular housing generally in Nova Scotia has been one of the main barriers to delivering on our agreement with the province and getting healthcare teams where they are needed... We’ve been discussing this with [MODG] for a couple of months, at least.”
For its part, municipal council is expected to address at least one of those barriers this week, following a public hearing on its proposal to effectively transfer three plots of public land (two in Guysborough and one in Canso) to HTNS.
According to the public notice, the properties at Cutler’s Brook Estates in Guysborough and on Wilmot Street in Canso each carry “a fair market value” of $35,000. “In the matter of [their] transfer... at a nominal price of $1.00 per property... this is an opportunity for residents to make formal written or oral submissions to municipal council [whose] intention is to pass a motion following the hearing to either approve or deny.”
Still, MODG Warden Vernon Pitts told The Journal in an interview last week, “We’re ready to pull the trigger. We’re ready to do it tomorrow, if [the HTNS] wants to go.”
Formal timelines are yet to be confirmed but, if the project receives municipal approval, the plan envisions up to eight modular homes on each of the three properties constructed “in little clusters that fit well into the community,” Bishop said. “We’re very much focussed on creating long-term, permanent housing that people would be happy to make their home.”
She noted that while, “People sometimes think of modular housing as reminiscent of rundown trailer parks,” that’s not the case here. “It’s likely going to be townhouses...We have an architect on call, on contract with us, who’s looking at each site and will design [the homes] with the site in mind and keep in mind the characteristic of the community.”
As for who may live there, she said, using a mixed-income model, “a resident may be a doctor, or a young person – someone who’s just entering the workforce, as a care assistant... Rent would be generally about 30 per cent of a person’s income up to [current] market [value]. But, let’s say the doctor makes $200,000 and the market [value] is $2,000; in that case, they wouldn’t be paying 30 per cent of their income.”
She added: “If some housing isn’t needed by healthcare workers, it can also be used by other skilled trades needed to facilitate housing in the area, such as construction workers... Once the land [transfers] are confirmed, we would expect to connect with local healthcare providers to understand, if there’s anything special to Guysborough we should be thinking about.”
MODG’s website describes Cutler’s Brook Estates as “a new neighbourhood taking shape [in] Guysborough... close to school, hospital, recreation facilities, and shopping... [featuring] sidewalks throughout, public green space, and a public wastewater system... [offering] lots for single-family homes starting at a half-acre and $29,950.”
While Bishop declined to confirm specific dollar amounts, she said the budget for the project will come from the $20 million forgivable loan the provincial government authorized through its Housing for Healthcare investment earlier this year, and will likely run to millions of dollars. The first project under the HTNS-administered initiative, announced in September, was a Luneburg motel conversion into one-bedroom units and townhouses suitable for families at a cost of nearly $5 million.
Said Bishop: “We are really excited about playing a role in supporting communities across the province. We have quite a few conversations underway, [but] it has been a challenge finding land, because some of it is owned by the private sector [and] we want to move fast. In Guysborough, you’ve got a proactive council that’s looking out for the interests of their communities, and we’ve got a mandate and an envelope of funding. So, it’s kind of a match made in heaven.”