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Affordable housing proves unaffordable

Affordable housing for seniors remains elusive on the Southwest coast. – © Sabine van Erp / Pixabay

PORT AUX BASQUES – When MP Gudie Hutchings, MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) and members of council announced in early 2018 that Port aux Basques had received one million dollars in funding from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) for an 8-unit affordable housing complex, it seemed the town had finally begun to address this longstanding problem. The demand was so strong that the wait list for seniors and those with mobility issues interested in a unit soon quadrupled well past the proposed capacity.

But two years after the initial announcement, the project hasn’t even begun construction and now it seems all but certain it never will.

Coun. Melvin Keeping, who sits on the board of the Gateway Village Corporation, which applied for, and was granted the funding approval, outlined the project’s financial difficulties in a report at the latest meeting of council on Tuesday, Aug. 18.

The calls for tenders resulted in three bids, all of which were well over the funding announced. The lowest bid came in at slightly over 1.798 million dollars and the remaining two topped the two million dollar mark.

“We could not award the tender because of the significant shortfall,” said Keeping. “There was a possibility of some additional funding in the amount of 250 thousand dollars through CMHC, which still left us with a 550 thousand dollar shortfall.”

Keeping said that despite the best efforts of all parties involved, no additional funding for the remainder could be found. Moreover, while the CMHC did grant an extension past the initial March 2020 deadline to complete the project, the second July timeline has also expired, although Gateway Village has not yet received an official notification to that effect.

“Given the amount, it would place a financial burden on the taxpayers of Channel-Port aux Basques,” said Keeping. “Also, given the unknown financial impact of COVID-19 on the town’s finances and given the deadlines, which have since passed, we find ourselves in a situation where we have no other alternative but to cancel the project.”

On a personal note, Keeping expressed sadness and frustration that the housing project had fallen through.

“I feel that if it were not for the bureaucratic red tape and regulations, there was a possibility that we could achieve the goal of having this constructed.”

He chose not to go into details, but did lament that this would have been a significant first step in addressing a problem that will not go away and will continue to impact many local seniors. In fact, Keeping said the issue played a large part of his campaign when he ran for council during the last election.

“Maybe if there wasn’t COVID during the last six or seven months we could have found the money,” noted the councillor.

Mayor John Spencer admitted his own disappointment that the project wouldn’t proceed, and offered high praise for the work of everyone involved.

“For us to go out now and borrow 600 thousand plus to see this project through? We just can’t afford it,” said Spencer. “From our perspective this project is now done.”

MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) admits he feels much the same.

“I’m frustrated. I know it’s been tough,” he said via phone interview. “You put your energy into something and see it not come to fruition is difficult.”

Parsons believes there’s always a silver lining, and it just may prove to be the learning experience itself, what went wrong and how to overcome those hurdles when it comes time to try it again.

“There’s a need, there’s a desire, and there’s obviously funding available,” noted Parsons. “That’s not going to be our last crack at it.”

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