The related issues of developing walking trails, establishing housing priorities, and setting the stage for more housing are clearly at the top of the agenda for the Town of Port Hawkesbury.

That’s not to say that other, related issues – like waterfront development, changes to Reeves Street, and doctor recruitment – have not generated the same amount of attention, but it’s clear that housing is a significant goal.

During the regular monthly meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council on Feb. 2, Cher McDaniel and Celeste Gotell, with the Strait Richmond Housing Coalition, told council about the need to pursue housing opportunities.

Gotell said the coalition hosted meetings with landlords about housing needs and ways to partner with private developers, noting some of the group’s meetings included provincial and federal partners. With a vision to have inclusive, healthy, affordable, sustainable, and accessible housing available in Strait Richmond, Gotell said rural communities, and seniors have unique housing needs, while in the case of women, high levels of child and family poverty contribute to the need.

The cost of utilities put low income homeowners at risk, Gotell said. And those suffering mental health and addiction issues, as well as those living on low incomes, often face problems because landlords are reluctant to take them as tenants, she pointed out.

Those without options are forced to live in private apartments that may not be suitable, Gotell said, noting that lists for public housing are long, and targeted for seniors and families.

In the area, Gotell said there is limited affordable housing for all demographics, there is no emergency housing for youth or men, there is no second stage housing for women in transition houses, there are only 36 senior housing apartments and 31 family units in the Port Hawkesbury area, there is only one long-term care facility, and one of the biggest challenges in accessing funding is there is no not-for-profit organization in the area with a mandate to address housing.

To explore options for affordable housing, McDaniel said the town can look at zoning by-laws, tax credits and land transfers for new and retrofitted construction. The town also needs to form private and public partnerships and advocate for housing matters, she said. Finally, she suggested the town needs to collaborate with all levels of government.

Because there is a renewed commitment from the federal and provincial governments, via investments in housing, McDaniel said there are opportunities. Also StFX’s extension department can provide resources and assistance, she noted.

After the presentation, town councillors expressed how the need was serious, especially for accessible and affordable housing.

This comes as the Cape Breton Partnership (CBP) and the town partnered to launch a survey to collect data on the local housing and rental market, with the ultimate goal being the identification of housing needs.

Because of growth and a changing population, the CBP said the area’s housing needs are also changing. The partnership said lack of housing can present barriers to workforce attraction and population growth.

Carla Arsenault, president and CEO of the CBP said the survey will help with long-term planning.

The survey is open to all current residents and those who may be interested in calling Port Hawkesbury home in the future. The survey asks a number of questions about preferences, senior housing specifications, and demographic information.

Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton explained the survey will determine the number of people looking to locate in the town, and specifically what type of housing the want, as well as other statistics about prospective residents such as age, and whether they have families.

She told council, that with permission, the town can share vital information with developers when housing opportunities arise to take some of the risk out of investing in multi-unit housing.

The mayor said the collection of the data can also help move along potential housing projects with not-for-profit entities.

Chisholm-Beaton said the CBP will post the survey on SurveyMonkey, and the town will share it on social media and their website. She said the town can also make paper surveys available. The survey is now available online and takes approximately nine minutes to complete. The online survey is available at: www.surveymonkey.com/r/PH-HousingSurvey.

The mayor said the plan is to run the survey for three months and present the findings to council in the spring. At that time, she said the town will connect with local developers to also share the findings.

She said town council agrees that there is a need to “aggressively pursue new housing opportunities.”

And while Port Hawkesbury pursues housing opportunities, the town unveiled a $2.2 million connector project.

Chisholm-Beaton said this is a series of smaller connector projects rolled into one broader project to join together different parts of the town using walking trails.

The mayor said one project aims to connect the Killam residential area on Trunk #4 to Reeves Street. Another connects the Active Transportation trail at the community park with MacQuarrie Drive Extension. Then the town is planning to connect the boardwalk on the waterfront to the Granville Street green space. There will also be improvements to the Queen Street intersection to Queen Street on Trunk 4. The final project is continuing the Active Transportation trail from NSCC along Reeves Street to the Old Sydney Road.

Chisholm-Beaton said the projects will be done in phases over a four to five-year period.

Chief Administrative Officer Terry Doyle said, depending on approval from the federal government, the town is hoping to start by April.

Doyle said there is funding from the provincial and federal governments for the projects, with the mayor explaining that the project is still under consideration by the feds.

The mayor said their hope is for the town to be “walkable and accessible for all ages and all abilities” and to have every part of the town connected in a way that accommodates people.

Providing accessible and affordable housing, along with making the town more pedestrian-friendly and connected, can help attract more people to Port Hawkesbury.

Not just entice more residents; such developments can help retain more seniors, more women, more young people, and more families in the town for many years.

In the midst of the pandemic, there are now more provincial and federal revenue streams available for housing developments, as well as infrastructure funds for improved walking trails.

The town would be derelict in its duty, if it did not pursue those funding opportunities, and based on what residents said during last October’s municipal election, they are carrying out the will of the people while fulfilling a demonstrated need.