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More affordable housing units

Red Cross and Town of PAB partner to convert commercial buildings

Representatives from the Canadian Red Cross and the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques partnered to announce new affordable housing units. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES – On Thursday afternoon, Aug. 24, the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques and the Canadian Red Cross (CRC) made a joint announcement to address the current housing crisis in the region. Housing was already in short supply when Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Sept. 2022, resulting in the loss of over 100 homes, and another 59 are slated to come down in Spring 2024 under Phase 2. The CRC donated $900,000 to the Town to facilitate the purchase of the former Yamaha dealership and the former carpet store in the Grand Bay West area of Port aux Basques. Both buildings will be converted into affordable housing units. The units will be not-for-profit, which means any rent profits will go directly back into the annual maintenance and operation of the buildings. They are meant to be affordable instead of a for-profit venture. Members of council and representatives from the Red Cross met in person at the town hall conference room to discuss the donation and what this will mean for housing in the region. MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – LaPoile) also attended via video conference. “Having the Red Cross and all of our partners here today is certainly a big day. You know as well as I do, you’ve been sitting at the table as long as all of us have there from day one of just trying to examine all of this and look at these buildings and to see if this was all possible, and everybody in here has played a major role,” said Mayor Brian Button. “It’s an exciting day, and to have our partners here and especially our folks from the Canadian Red Cross, it’s a pleasure to be able to turn these buildings over today and be able to start this process, and hopefully in a short period of time, we’ll be able to all come back in the room again and to see how it all turned out.” Conrad Sauvé, CEO of the CRC, was just as pleased. “Certainly from the Red Cross perspective, I think we’re very happy to be here on this important day. It’s an opportunity also for us to come and for me and some of my senior team to come, unfortunately see some of the impacts here. We know that as we’ve talked quite a bit about today, that it’s not just the immediate impact, but recovery is a challenge in a time where housing is scarce here in other places,” said Sauvé. “So to find innovative solutions that the community came up with, to be able to contribute to that together, we’re coming here to see it, but to learn as well, and to share this experience with others. It also, it brings us closer, hopefully, to the province, and how we work together, not just in this situation, but in future ones as well. We don’t hope for anything in the future, but there will be other events and as I said, we can’t prevent these events, but we can be better prepared and we can work better together. So again, congratulations to the people here in terms of finding the solutions and we’re proud that we can contribute to it.” The Canadian Red Cross taking the time to come to Port aux Basques for the announcement was a gesture Parsons appreciated. “It’s great to have the CRC on site in the area. I think that’s really important because, in my estimation, seeing is believing. We’ve seen lots of pictures, but being on site has always, I think, had a value to it. The other side is that there’s a lot of people in that room right now that have been working extremely hard for eleven months to get to this point on multiple levels,” said Parsons. “That appreciation doesn’t go away. If anything, this is a good step forward. We’ve still got lots left to do, but I know everybody’s got their minds wrapped around the different things we have to do on numerous fronts, but this is a really positive thing. It’s going to impact a lot of families and that’s a huge positive, so I’m pretty excited about that.” The recovery process is the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the aftermath of natural disasters. “I think one of our biggest challenges in terms of helping through the Red Cross is working, of course, in the response and providing financial assistance, working with the provinces and shelters and the emergencies. But recovery, as we’re saying, is one of the challenges throughout the country, so we’re really proud to participate here,” said Sauvé. “Once an event hits, there’s a lot of people that have lost their homes and they don’t know where they’re going to stay at a time of shortage of housing, and we’re contributing actually to a local initiative in terms of finding a solution. We’re providing the funding that was raised for Fiona. So to be able to participate and find this solution and work with other partners like ACOA is very interesting for us, so this is, I’d say, it’s first and foremost a local initiative to which we’re contributing.” This type of donation is a natural progression of the work the CRC does all over the country. “We’ve been working in community in terms of helping people who had large scale damage and destruction, and so we provided additional financial assistance that covered gaps in needs between insurance and government assistance programs, and then we wanted to work with the community to find some sort of larger scale investment, and so this project arose as something that, as Conrad said so well,” said Amy Avis, General Counsel for the CRC. “It’s community led. It hits the targets of hitting those that are most vulnerable. It reduces risk for future impacts, and so this was one of the large-scale projects. We also have our mental health and psychosocial teams that are still delivering programming and we’ll be here long-term, noting that we’re entering another disaster season, there’s a lot of nervousness around that.” The buildings themselves will officially be sold to the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques. However, as the town cannot hold property, ownership will be transferred to Gateway Village Corporation, a non-profit organization, who will manage the properties. “These buildings have been up for sale for quite some time and the province, ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency), and the federal government were trying to find ways to rebuild from Fiona. These buildings were known as being up for sale for quite some time and nobody really stepped forward to acquire them and I’m not sure on the offers I think somebody may have been interested, but I’m not sure if it ever moved forward,” said Town Manager, Leon MacIsaac. “The province was really interested in moving forward on these and during a number of discussions between the town, ACOA, and the province, the Canadian Red Cross stepped in. They wanted to make a difference in the area as well, and they provided a contribution of approximately $900,000 towards acquiring the buildings and putting it towards renovations as well.” Significant work will have to be done on both commercial buildings to convert them into affordable rental units. “We want to upgrade them, the buildings. I’m not sure on the condition, but we’ll have to take off the exterior, the inside gyprock and ceilings. See what’s there. Upgrade it where necessary. Increase the value as much as we can. There’s great bones there. We’ve looked through it quite a number of times and we’ll be able to produce some energy efficient and grade level apartments for people,” said MacIsaac. Work on this project has been going on behind the scenes for almost a year, and a lot of people were involved in the process. “We met with government officials and stuff, and they looked at all of it to see what it was, and then from that stage, we did some changes to the town’s zoning plans. And that was if someone privately wanted to do it, because there was private interest as well, that we had heard that there was capacity, which would have been great as well. So we just wanted to have it so that way then it could be there, but that didn’t seem to pan out. There was no movement on it,” said Mayor Button. “So we just continued to forge ahead and if a private interest did come into it, we would have stepped aside, but as we moved forward, we kept meeting with different agencies, and the Red Cross actually came, involved in conversations both from the province, with them and with us, and we were able to come up with being able to acquire the buildings. We have different funding agencies that are going to help come on board, and hopefully we can make this a reality, so we can help the people that need the help when it comes to housing.” These additional affordable housing units will provide important relief for the current shortage in the region, particularly Port aux Basques, which was hardest hit by Hurricane Fiona. “We saw a major list of names of interest coming in that wanted this type of living, this type of housing living, so we see the disappointment when we can’t fit everybody in. We know how many people want to restart,” said Button. “Some people in the retirement age or in the older age, it’s not so easy to want to go and start to rebuild and build a house. That’s a difficult process for them, but knowing there are options and to be able to stay in town and have a place to call their home and stuff, I think it’ll… especially for people who weren’t successful in getting into housing units and stuff, it’s another option that we’ll be able to have out there. What it’ll all look like when it’s all said and done? That’s still yet to be determined. But the key today and the big step today and the lightning piece today, is to be able to get the buildings acquired and to start forging ahead.”

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