ANTIGONISH, N.S. - “It takes a village to build a community.”
That was the line from Antigonish Affordable Housing Society (AAHS) chair Colleen Cameron which did two things; first, it encapsulated the feeling of cooperation and accomplishment for those in the room as phase two of the Riverside Estates multi-family complex was officially opened on Hope Lane Oct. 20. And two, it elicited the largest round of applause during an event full of hand-clapping.
The official opening celebration took place in the spacious community room which was part of phase two construction. Also part of the phase was 10 rental units added to the four units constructed in phase one, and opened in March of 2017.
“This is such a wonderful day for our community,” Cameron said in a prepared statement.
“Our society is about more than just building a structure for people to live in. We are building homes enabling people, who live on low incomes and/or with disabilities, to participate in shaping their own futures, and to feel pride in their homes and in the community they have created around them.”
That sense of pride was palpable when talking to a couple of residents who were still settling into their new units … happily doing so.
“I love it,” Colleen Bulger, who moved in Aug. 31, said. “It’s so quiet and dust free; the neighbours are so friendly. It’s just, all around, a good place to live.”
Bulger, who has asthma, said her doctor kept insisting she find a new place to live considering the dust which would accumulate in her last apartment; a basement unit in an older home in the area.
“We were vacuuming every day and my doctor was after me for two years; ‘find another place, you can’t stay there,’” she said, quoting her doctor.
“Here we have the heat pump and air exchanger and the air is just pure, all of the time. I love it, it’s a dream come true.”
Neighbour Doreen Grant described her place and the complex as “beautiful.”
“There are no other words to describe it … I’m very happy here,” Grant said, noting she has been in her new unit for around three weeks.
“I was one of the last ones to move in and I’m very, very happy,” she added. “Everyone is so nice in the community and that’s what we’re developing here, a community.”
“Pocket of hope”
Amongst the speakers on the day was Sister Stella Chafe representing the Sisters of St. Martha; a group the other speakers pointed to as providing constant and inspirational leadership when it came to an affordable housing project in the community.
Chafe also stressed the word “community.”
“It [the project] touches our deep belief in the value of building community,” she said. “We see this project as a pocket of hope in the centre of this community.”
Wayne Ezekiel, president of A.A. Munro Insurance in Antigonish, spoke to the society being awarded an Aviva Community Fund last year, which really helped support the construction, particularly the community room which was hosting the celebration.
“Our community is healthier today because of this project,” Ezekiel said.
Government support from all three levels was also noted during the event and each was represented on the day, with the representative speaking briefly.
“Housing has a major impact on social justice, not just in our community but across Canada,” Central Nova MP Sean Fraser said.
“It doesn’t take long to figure out, if you actually take time to invest in housing, you are solving a lot of problems that never would have come up in the first place. The cost of addressing homelessness and housing needs is a lot less than the cost of ignoring them,” he added.
Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey noted the amount of work and time the society has put into the Riverside Estates project and noted, once they had a little momentum behind them with government and community support, they were able to accomplish a lot.
“Look at what you’ve done for the community of Antigonish,” he said, while gesturing around the community room to indicate the whole complex.
Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher said the project was the main thing she wanted to talk about during a recent meeting with fellow mayors from across the province.
“We’re very unique and what makes us unique is the people we have,” she said. “I know you’ve heard me say this a number of times but I really believe it’s true; we are so fortunate in our community to have such passionate, caring people with big hearts, and without their passion and devotion, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Municipality of the County of Antigonish Warden Owen McCarron talked about the partnerships involved in the project and how a quality place to live can help a person in so many ways.
“This can provide a great standard of life; a quality home to live in,” he said. “When we think of the social determinants of health, with think about the importance of housing in making all the other pieces more functional.”
“Would never get here”
In talking to reporters after the event, Cameron said getting to the point of an official opening is “absolutely phenomenal.”
“There were days that we just thought we would never get here, so to be here today and see this, the excitement, it’s wonderful. Also to be talking to the tenants, what this means to them, it’s overwhelming. I feel very emotional today because we have come to this point.”
This point means not talking about ‘phase one and two,’ but just, simply, Riverside Estates.
“We’re now at Riverside Estates and this is home to many people who have never lived in a new building before,” she said. “Some of the tenants have come out and said ‘this is it, this is my home, this is where I’m staying.’”
Next up for AAHS is to continue their Housing for Hope capital campaign to raise money to eliminate debt and make sure Riverside Estates is sustainable. For information on what they have going on, as far as fundraisers to help with the campaign, visit antigonishaffordablehousing.ca and/or check out their Facebook page.