3 Pictou County towns get millions in federal money to fast-track housing

Federal Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser, second from right, announces $5.6 million for Pictou County towns through the housing accelerator fund at the Dunkeld apartment building in New Glasgow, N.S., on Friday. Fraser is also the area's MP. From left: Westville Mayor Lennie White, Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan and New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks. (Town of New Glasgow - image credit)
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A trio of Nova Scotia towns in Pictou County are getting millions of dollars to help build more than 130 homes over the next three years.

Sean Fraser, federal minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, announced Friday that New Glasgow, Pictou, and Westville will get $5.6-million through the federal government's $4-billion housing accelerator fund.

"Feeling very, very excited. This is a very significant announcement for our town," Westville Mayor Lennie White said after the announcement in New Glasgow on Friday.

Westville's plan commits to various initiatives like allowing more housing density, tiny homes on smaller lots, and expanding the town's water system. White said they will also study former mining areas to see if any could be safely redeveloped.

"These funds will enable us to begin the process of revitalization of the Town of Westville, no question," White said.

New Glasgow has seen steady growth in recent years. A provincial housing assessment found there's now a shortage of at least 135 units, and that would increase to about 425 units by 2027.

New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks says introducing a district heating system in the town could reduce the community's carbon footprint while lowering heating bills.
New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks says introducing a district heating system in the town could reduce the community's carbon footprint while lowering heating bills.

New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks says she sees the pressing need for housing in the town every day. (CBC)

Mayor Nancy Dicks said the $3.3 million the town is getting through the accelerator fund will kickstart various projects she hopes could fill that gap over the next few years of both market-rate and affordable housing.

They are launching an online e-permitting system for development approvals, will plan to improve the town's water utility in light of risks from climate change and consider turning unoccupied buildings into affordable housing.

Dicks said she sees the pressing need for housing every day, pointing to Friday's event location at the new 80-unit Dunkeld apartment building.

"They have a waitlist, I'm going to say probably of 400 people. So that speaks to the need for this," Dicks said.

Pictou is getting about $775,000 for rezoning plans that would allow for duplexes in residential areas, streamline development approvals and create a sustainability plan to focus on the town's water utility.

Towns' 'creative' plans helped win funding: Fraser

Mayor Jim Ryan said the new units created through the funds will have spillover benefits for nearby towns, the rural municipality and Pictou Landing First Nation.

"When units are built in one community, that creates opportunity for the other communities," Ryan said.

Fraser, who is also the area's MP, said the three towns' clear and "really creative" plans to handle growth helped them secure the money from a "very competitive" fund. Of the 540 municipal applications nationally, Fraser said only about a third will be successful.

"It's the expected output that we see of more than 2,000 additional homes in small communities, like the one that I call home, that justified such a significant funding contribution from the federal government," Fraser said in an interview.

There were two other accelerator fund investments this week.

Wolfville received about $1.8 million to build more than 45 units over three years, but Mayor Wendy Donovan said she's confident the Annapolis Valley town will easily bypass that target.

"We feel a fair bit of pressure for the need for more housing, and this is very welcome," Donovan said.

Donovan said they are looking to add backyard suites in single-family residential areas, develop parking lots, and rezone land near Acadia University for student housing. She added that increasing transit in the area would be important, and upcoming studies could shed light on how to fill current gaps.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and Membertou First Nation had received $13 million to create more than 367 units over three years and 3,286 homes over the next decade.

Fraser said Friday more accelerator fund announcements will be coming for other Nova Scotia municipalities soon.