Building new housing a block at a time

On Monday, provincial and federal officials joined Saint John developer John Rocca in opening a 48-unit apartment complex on Ellerdale Street. Half of its apartments will be rented at full price, the other half will be subsidized for low-income residents. With this building and others like it, Saint John is easing the demand for affordable housing.

The city still needs about 1,000 subsidized housing units, but there has been a sustained movement to keep affordable housing on the agenda. Developers are working with the city, province and federal government to ensure low-income residents have a home - and developments like this one are creating more integrated neighbourhoods.

In just three years, there has been a substantial change in how Saint Johners approach the issue of housing. The first prominent mixed-income project, Leinster Court, met with neighbourhood opposition. Now, neighbourhoods are more likely to demand mixed income housing using the Leinster Court model.

Mr. Rocca has emerged as a strong proponent of private development than includes low-income housing. He has called on other developers to work with the federal and provincial governments to meet local housing needs, characterizing it as a way of giving value back to the community. He's right.

As Saint John's economy grows, the need for affordable housing will become more urgent, as construction and energy-sector workers increase demand for rental space. Developers like Mr. Rocca hope to meet that demand by building larger mixed-income apartment complexes.

It may seem like a slow process, but the results are worth the effort. Rather than creating low-income neighbourhoods that function as ghettoes, branding and isolating its residents, Saint John is investing in integration. And since mixed-income properties are supported by the market, the buildings will be maintained.

As each new mixed-income building goes up, a few dozen low-income residents come off provincial waiting lists. And more development companies realize they can find new business partnerships by meeting a profound community need.

That's progress.

Published Friday January 16th, 2009 - Telegraph Journal