Seniors housing gets a financial boost

Mount Pearl will kick in the land for the project

Published on April 22, 2013
A project is in the works to build affordable housing, like these homes on Karwood Drive in Paradise, for seniors in the neighbouring city of Mount Pearl.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) has committed $400,000 to a private developer to build affordable housing for seniors in Mount Pearl, The Telegram has learned. And the city is providing the land.

NLHC CEO Len Simms said his officials reviewed 70 proposals submitted to the Private Sector Affordable Housing Program, which is cost-shared between the province and the federal government, and chose Karwood Contracting’s plan for a seniors complex.

“The proposal was approved by us as it was one of the best, because the city is providing the land and the design was one of the best,” he told The Telegram Friday.

“A big part of the reason for that is the city was onside and wanted more seniors housing, and this was a way for them to get it.”

Karwood is proposing to build a 4 1/2-storey apartment building geared towards seniors, with 10 of those units devoted to affordable housing.

Affordable housing, in this instance, said Simms, means it’s meant for seniors earning $32,500 or less annually.

They are not social housing units or subsidized properties, he said, but residences for seniors with modest incomes.

Social housing units are intended for families with a total income of $17,500 or less, he said.

Through the affordable housing agreement with the NLHC, Simms said the developer can charge no more than $700 a month for a two-bedroom unit for 10 years. After a decade, the landlord is not obligated to continue with the rent restriction.

However, Simms said NLHC’s housing partner, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., has advised them that rent increases and evictions after the 10-year period is up don’t usually happen.  

“So that issue — while it has come up periodically — really, it has never been an issue for us,” said Simms.

He said the NLHC requires the landlord to provide an annual report, and every year 20 per cent of the tenants provincewide are interviewed to ensure there aren’t any problems with their living arrangements.

In exchange for providing affordable housing for seniors, the developer gets $40,000 per unit in funding, to a maximum of 10 units.

When the program first started in this province in 2003, Simms said there were few takers. Back then, companies were given $15,000 per unit as an incentive.

But it started to catch on in 2006-2007, Simms said, resulting in the corporation teaming up with several developers to produce 85 projects providing about 900 affordable units.

This doesn’t include other projects with non-profit organizations for which NLHC provides $120,000 per unit.

“This is a program that is meant to help seniors and is meant to increase the number of affordable housing units around the province and thereby, hopefully, try to keep rents as level and low as possible,” Simms said.

He explained that CMHC sets the rent based on current market prices. However, the NLHC double-checks the rate with its own in-house evaluator to make sure the rent is fair.

The affordable housing program was to end in March 2014, but Simms said the Harper government has extended it for five years.

Regarding the Mount Pearl project, he said the NLHC reviewed the design and engineering for the 10 affordable housing units but has nothing to do with the remainder of the plan.

“We have no say in its size or height — that has to do with the developer and the city,” he said.

The project is still in the rezoning stage. The land on Municipal, Delaney and Orchard avenues is residential medium but would have to be residential high density for the project to go ahead.

Last week, a meeting was held at city hall to brief residents about the project. Most said they don’t want it in their backyards, but Mayor Randy Simms said something’s got to give.

“It’s far from a done deal, but I think what is a done deal, quite frankly at this point, in my opinion — I told residents the other night — I believe the issue of rezoning the land so that a development can occur there is going to happen,” the mayor told The Telegram Friday.

“Council could surprise me and all vote no and say it isn’t happening. Now whether or not what the developer has proposed, this 4 1/2-storey building with 42 units, whether that its going to go on that site I can’t say,” he said, adding the land is still in the city’s possession but it intends to give it to Karwood.

He said he understands residents’ concerns about losing the greenspace and the fears of increased traffic and water and sewer issues, but is confident that will all be dealt with as the development moves ahead.

“We all have some sympathy for residents who feel they’re being hard done by, and they’re not being hard done by because if they were we wouldn’t have told them what we are doing. But we are pursuing the rezoning of the land and it would be naive to believe that a piece of valuable property like that is going to be left vacant forever,” he said.

“Something is going to go there, and not only is the type of development we’re envisioning, seniors residential development, not only is it a good fit for that land, but it is probably — for the residents in the area — the least intrusive thing that could go there,” said Simms.