SRD International is proposing an affordable, accessible housing development along the Grandique Road in Arichat that will feature six duplexes, and 12 apartment units, with one of the units being completely wheelchair accessible, with the others considered “visitable” for those with disabilities.

ARICHAT: The company behind an affordable and accessible housing development in Isle Madame told council they need help from all levels of government.

During the committee of the whole meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on March 8, Rachelle Samson with SRD International appeared before council to talk about their $1.2 million housing proposal for the Grandique Road in Arichat.

Samson oversaw her first rental properties in 2011, and she and her partners acquired a 10-unit apartment building at the former school and daycare in D’Escousse back in 2017. In that time, Samson said she has received many inquiries from people looking to rent, which she said shows the need in the area and across the province.

“I’ve had a lot of people call me looking for an affordable place to rent, not only seniors looking to downgrade from a home, but single parents, or small families, or just individuals looking at the area and can’t afford to rent a big house and to furnish it at the same time,” she said. “The incredibly high need for safe, affordable housing in our area is crucial in order to keep our community members in their community. Community members, specifically seniors are being subjected to live in older homes that are becoming increasingly difficult maintain and too expensive to heat, low income earners are forced to live in unmaintained or unaffordable rentals while new comers debating moving to the area are unable to find places to rent at all. We continue to lose current and potential community members due to the lack of affordable housing.” 

She told council that Arichat is a great location for housing since it is close to so many amenities. Samson said Grandique Grove is a 12-unit affordable housing project for seniors and low income earners. The project includes six duplex buildings totalling 12, two bedroom units, and one unit completely wheelchair accessible, she said. The apartments will be floor level, and the overall project will include three duplex buildings on each side, facing each other, with a driveway down the centre, Samson explained.

“We’re looking to construct six duplexes, which will provide 12 units; one of those units will be completely wheelchair accessible, and the others will be visitable,” she noted. “The main difference is wheelchair accessible, you have a walk-in shower, you can roll under the sink, there’s just a couple of tweaks that you do, versus visitable where you can still enter and exit in a wheelchair and visit comfortably.”

One thing the location does not have is access to Arichat’s water and sewer services.

“We’re looking to work with the public sector to make sure this project comes true,” she noted. “If we had to install water and sewer ourselves and extend it to that property, we would, in return, not be able to keep the rent low enough to offer it to the people who need it the most.”

During November’s regular monthly meeting, it was agreed that municipal staff would look into the cost of extending municipal services for the potential apartment complex.

Then in December, council determined that the request will require policy changes, andm as a result, will have to go to a municipal committee for discussion.

At the time, Chief Administrative Officer Don Marchand presented council with a report from the director of Public Works that pegged the cost at between $590,000 and $760,000 in one scenario, with another option showing the cost in the range of $8,000 to $10,000 per lot.

Director of Public Works Chris Boudreau said the estimates came from consultants and were calculated compared to recent and similar municipal projects, but he cautioned these numbers could be off by as much as 30 per cent, with the most likely scenario being that costs will be more than estimated.

At the time, Warden Amanda Mombourquette had council agree to take the matter to the next bylaw and policy committee meeting to develop a “sound” policy recommendation.

In addition to the municipality, Samson said they need a strong provincial funding partner to make this project a reality.

District 1 Councillor Shawn Samson agreed there is a need for housing in the area. He asked whether SRD International spoke with contractors about the cost of extending the water and sewer lines.

She replied that the private estimates were “quite high” and because they are cost prohibitive, they’ve reached out to Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon and Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway to make those levels of government aware.

“Everyone sees the need, so it’s just to get the project out there, make sure people understand that it’s being worked on, make sure the province knows that, as well as the municipality so when these funding streams do open, we’re the first to know,” she replied.

Mombourquette added that public and private partners will be invaluable in seeing the project to completion.

“Inadequate affordable housing is quickly becoming a crisis,” Samson added. “We as a community developer are willing to partner and share the risk with the public sector to develop affordable housing with their assistance. Without their help, our infrastructure costs will be too high to allow us to keep our rents affordable.”