Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

In the midst of the housing crisis, heritage organizations and architects are outraged by the number of unused buildings.

Calls for transform abandoned buildings into housing

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Saint Patrick's-Alexandra School, on Maitland Street in Halifax, has been closed since 2011.


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The city of Halifax, struggling with a persistent housing crisis, has several buildings that are vacant, abandoned, or little used. Different groups are asking why this is the case, as a growing number of people prepare to spend the winter on the streets.

The Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, a heritage advocacy fund in Nova Scotia, added its voice to the debate last week.

In a statement on November 23, the organization cites in particular three buildings that have been unused for years: the former Halifax Library, the former Saint Patrick's-Alexandra School, and the Fielding Building on the site of the 'old Bloomfield school.

The group accuses the Halifax Regional Municipality of being negligent in selling two of these buildings to private interests over the past three years, and in doing nothing with the other, the former library on Spring Street. Garden.

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Lawyer Sandra Barss is president of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.

The number of people sleeping on the streets is increasing, says the organization's president, Sandra Barss. They are homeless, living in tents, she said. This is not a place to be at the end of November.

These historic buildings could have been part of the solution, writes Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia. They were created for use by the public, have toilets, sometimes even showers, and are located in the urban core of the city. We could have given them a new reason for being.

The organization says that while it can be expensive to fix up these dilapidated buildings, it can be cheaper to build from scratch. We must also ask ourselves: what is the cost of letting our city's residents live, and possibly die, housed in tents?, they write.

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Mike Savage, Mayor of Halifax, on May 31.

That would be nice, but it's not going to work, replies Halifax Mayor Mike Savage. People need solutions now, they can't wait for years. It would take tens of millions of dollars to live in the old library.

If it is possible to reuse a building, it is imperative to first try this solution, says Susan Fitzgerald, an architect in Halifax.

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The newest building on the site of the old Bloomfield School. The buildings have been abandoned since 2014.

She is part of the Architects Against Housing Alienation (AAHA) collective, which campaigns for governments to make surplus public assets accessible, in order to put them at the service of the public good or to convert them into housing. affordable.

This collective recently created hypothetical plans for an affordable housing district around Gray Arena in Dartmouth. These plans were for demonstration at an international architecture expo, but, according to the group, it illustrates the potential of vacant or underutilized buildings in Nova Scotia.

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Tents in front of Halifax City Hall, November 1.

The arena built in 1975 is expensive to maintain and must be demolished to make way for something else. The regional municipality has still not decided what to do with it.

Unlike the old Halifax library, the Gray Arena has been used in the last years. In particular, a winter shelter for homeless people was established there two years ago.

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On August 18, 2021, the City dismantled the structures and tents that were used by homeless people on the grounds of the former library on Spring Garden Street, closed since 2014.

At the same time, a citizen movement called This Should Be Housing has expanded in recent years in Nova Scotia. Members of the public can add the location of unused buildings to an interactive map (New window).

Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia would also like to convert two large, long-abandoned sites that the owners have done nothing with into affordable housing.

L St. Patrick's School-Alexandra, in Halifax's North End, closed in 2011. The vacant building was purchased by Jono Developments in 2020.

The Bloomfield complex is a trio of school buildings. The oldest building is in ruins. The other two are more recent, but unoccupied. Several community groups coveted the Fielding building, built in 1929.

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One of the buildings on the site of the former Bloomfield school, in January 2018. The premises have been deserted since 2014.

In 2021, the City sold the Bloomfield site to real estate developer BANC.

This year, BANC group president Alex Halef said interest rates were too high and that he did not have the means to demolish the old building.

The conditions of both sales — Bloomfield and Saint Patrick's-Alexandra — stipulated that the buyer had to build something within five years or else the Halifax Regional Municipality would have a right of redemption.

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Real estate developer Alex Halef says interest rates are too high to demolish buildings located on land purchased from the City of Halifax .

The two owners said they were going to make way for housing, but we don't know their precise plans and, in any case, nothing has happened since.

As for the old library, whose construction was completed in 1951 and which closed in 2014, a municipality spokesperson said officials are preparing a recommendation for its use. We don't say how soon.

Based on the report by Taryn Grant , CBC

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