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Imagine Bloomfield: Lament for a great idea

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Imagine Bloomfield people are right to be pissed off about the sale of the Bloomfield school site by the city. 

The community group worked hard to articulate a community-endorsed plan that included a publicly-owned arts and community centre. Nonetheless, the city couldn’t even be bothered to give the group a courtesy call prior to putting the property up for sale. 

Meanwhile, the earlier requirement for potential developers to maintain 30% of outdoor space is watered down to 20%. 

For me the really sad thing is what the sale means for affordable housing, something that is desperately needed in the rapidly gentrifying North End.

The current conditions around the sale require the successful bidder to commit to 10% of the residential units to be affordable for at least 50 years. We should always question what affordable means in this context, but this is not the fundamental issue.

I am still shaking my head over the province’s decision in 2016 to pull out of the Bloomfield project.

This is what happened.

In 2012 the city put the Bloomfield property up for sale for the first time. Housing Nova Scotia was the successful bidder, beating 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.

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.  

Meanwhile, the province committed to create 191 affordable units. 

That was in 2012 when the NDP was in power. In 2016, when Housing Nova Scotia abandoned the project, it was the Liberals’ Joane Bernard who made that announcement.

“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,” Bernard, Minister of Community Services stated in a news release. 

As the 2012 debacle illustrates, private developers want to make money. They don’t want to build affordable housing because it pushes their profit margin down.

I remember lots of people at the time saying how the province was in over their head, only the private sector can do a project of this magnitude, and other self-serving private sector myths. 

Let’s not discount that the  government’s 2012 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 make government compete with private developers in the first place? Why a bidding process where negotiation between two levels of government would have been more appropriate?

Housing is a human right, and the provincial government has an obligation to provide it, and similarly the city has an obligation to facilitate that effort.  

It didn’t happen. Such a pity.

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One Comment

  1. What is the legacy, ? if I had anything to do with this project I would hang my head in shame Elinor Egar Reynolds

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