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Op-ed: Affordable housing and the Bloomfield Centre debacle

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Joanne Bernard’s decision to pull out of the Bloomfield project after well over three years of non-activity is a blow to affordable housing in a neighborhood that desperately needs it.

“After hearing from, and seriously considering, feedback from stakeholders and the people involved, we have decided that Housing Nova Scotia will no longer proceed as developer for this project,” said Joanne Bernard, Minister of Community Services in a news release.

Clearly that feedback process didn’t take three years. That file was collecting dust somewhere for most of that time.

Just for that delay Bernard should be embarrassed.  But the more serious issue is what the decision will mean for affordable housing in the Halifax North End.

There is a notion that a private developer is better suited to  tackle a project of this magnitude, because, well, it’s private, don’t you know.

Maybe so.

There were two private developers among the finalists in 2012, Dexel Developments and Urban Capital/Killam.  

According to a staff report to Council at the time Dexel’s proposal included 36 affordable housing units.  Killam’s offered up 18 affordable units. Drops in a bucket stuff.

Both these bids were well below the 20 percent of affordable housing stipulated in the Request for Proposal. Since this part of the bid was only worth a mere ten percent of the total score the companies must have decided they’d just take the hit. I am guessing here.

The province committed to 191 affordable units.  191 affordable housing units is a lot more than 36.  

Housing Nova Scotia was handicapped from the beginning, because their bid was too high, is the other thing you hear a lot.

True.  The  government’s bid at $15 million was $5 million higher than the next highest bid by Dexel.  

Those things happen when you invite closed bids. It guarantees a maximum profit for the seller.

But is profit what we are all about?  Why have government compete with private developers in the first place? Why a bidding process where negotiation may be more appropriate?

After all, private developers want to  make money. We look at governments, municipal and provincial, not to mke money, but to make a serious dent in the affordable housing deficit in the North End.

After walking away from Bloomfield, Housing Nova Scotia will now “focus on its core mandate of expanding affordable housing options for renters and repairing existing affordable housing,” states the government’s press release.”

Strange. I thought that was what the Bloomfield project was all about.