The United Church of Canada is undertaking a nationwide initiative to build housing on its excess land — and that includes property it owns in Saint John, N.B.
The church is creating a 95-unit mixed income development at its Portland United Church property in the city's North End. The plan is for a 90-unit apartment building and five townhouses.
"[This development] supports the community outreach that the church has been doing for 200 years," said Steve McCall, chair of the Portland United Church's board, adding that the North End is becoming a desirable neighborhood and new housing is needed.
McCall said the goal is to have about 38-units of affordable housing in the development.
The United Church of Canada has created an independent development company, Kindred Works, to help develop surplus land. Kindred's goal is to house 34,000 Canadians by 2037 with a third of those units being below market rates, according to Kristopher Tavella, director of real estate development.
Kindred Works is hoping to receive financial support for the project from all levels of government, according to Tavella. For the affordable units, he said the hope is that the cost of rent is tied to income.
Deputy Mayor John MacKenzie is looking forward to having the development in his ward.
"I think that there's definitely a need, and anybody that's willing to step up and put the proposal forward, I've got all the respect in the world [for]," he said.
The Portland United Church's property is already home to two affordable housing apartments, which are each about 10 and 30 years old.
Neighbours concerned about North End development
Not everyone is looking forward to the development.
The development was discussed at Tuesday's meeting of the city's planning advisory committee meeting. Kindred Works applied to close a portion of a street so the development can be constructed farther away from existing properties on Millidge Avenue.
"Unfortunately … from their perspective, they see this as an encroachment on their space. At the same time, the upside benefit for the community is very important," - Steve McCall
Area resident Dawn Lamb told the committee that she's against the overall development, not just the application in front of the committee.
"We feel like we're being forced out of our home. Ninety-one units behind our house?" said Lamb, adding that the green space behind her home where some of the development would go is already prone to flooding.
"So putting pavement on top of that at a higher elevation. What is that going to do to my house?"
McCall told the committee that any potential flooding issues will be addressed and geotechnical engineers have surveyed the site.
Lamb also raised concerns about traffic safety due to the influx of people.
McCall said the church's neighbours have long been used to a large green space that's always been zoned for residential buildings, the church just never acted on it.
"Unfortunately, you know, from their perspective, they see this as an encroachment on their space. At the same time, the upside benefit for the community is very important," he told CBC News after the meeting.
The overall development wasn't up for debate at the committee, as the church's land is already zoned for this type of development.
"But if we can make it harder for them, we're definitely against the rezoning," Lamb said regarding the application before the committee.
The committee voted to recommend the application be approved, it will next go to city council.
Government should be doing more, says advocate
Tobin LeBlanc Haley, a member of the New Brunswick Coalition of Tenants Rights and sociologist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, supports the development.
But, "that this has to be done by, like an entity outside of the public sector, that is a problem for me," she said. She added that's not a criticism of the developers trying to help.
Haley said public investment in development is good but it's not a systematic approach to solving the issue.
"What we're seeing here is an ad hoc approach to a crisis," she said.
The province can't act alone on housing, Rebecca Howland, a spokesperson for the department of Social Development, said in a statement. Howland said private and non-profit developers play a key role.
In the last three years, the province has exceeded its target of 177 affordable housing units under the Canada-New Brunswick Bilateral Agreement, Howland said. More than 400 new affordable housing units will be created within the next three years, Howland said.