Early Monday morning, a backhoe began ripping through an old blue house on the corner of Creighton and Gerrish Streets. By 11:30am, the view from the sidewalk was deceptive—the facade of the building was still intact, giving the impression of a fully-formed home. But behind the outer walls, most of the house already lay in ruins.
“Isn’t that fucked up?” remarked one passerby, gazing at the rubble from the alley beside the house. “I used to squat in that building.”
Within the community, the two-storey house had earned an infamous reputation. Despite being boarded up and abandoned, the house was still associated with drug activity and an ever-changing cast of squatters. Some locals still informally refer to the area as “crack corner.”
Downtown councillor Dawn Sloane lives on the same block as the demolition site. She says the destruction of the house stirred up mixed emotions for her.
“That building has been there forever, and in a way, it’s unfortunate that a piece of architecture like that has to come down for something new to go up,” she says. “But when you think of the significance of that corner being known as the ‘bad corner’ and having something new blossom out of it, I think this might provide the area with a catalyst—a kick in the pants to get some other things done.”
The now-vacant property will make way for a new low-income housing development. Non-profit developer Harbour City Homes will be in charge of the project that will ultimately replace the demolished blue house.
“It’s going to be mostly one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments,” says Wally Berryhill, executive director of Harbour City Homes, “and it will pretty much be the same size building as it was before.”
Berryhill is reluctant to reveal too many specifics about the impending development— legal details are still being worked out.
“At this point, I can tell you that this is strictly going to be non-profit housing for lower income citizens in Halifax,” he says. “We’re looking at probably within six months to have the project completed.”
Sloane credits the non-profit Creighton/Gerrish Development Association as a major driving force behind the redevelopment. Grant Wanzel is the director of the CGDA, but could not be reached for comment as he is currently out of town.
The CGDA originally planned to implement five new developments in the Creighton/Gerrish area, although that number has now been lowered to four. With two of those developments already complete, this latest project is the third new low-income housing initiative from the CGDA. Based on CDGA’s track record, Sloane is already confident that the new apartment building will be a success.
“Everybody knows the design will be solid—Niall Savage is the architect, and he’s already done a wonderful job on the houses and the single-living quarters down on the corner of Gerrish and Gottingen,” she says. Sloane also has some personal insight on the designer—Savage designed the CGDA-backed house where Sloane currently resides.
Sloane can rattle off a number of other housing projects that are currently in the works for the area north of Cornwallis Street. It’s a trend that she hopes will build positive momentum in the community.
“We’ve got about five projects going on in that area,” she says about the local developments, “and when you think about it, four years ago, there were none. And it’s when you repopulate, that’s when people start saying, ‘Well, where are the amenities that will keep me here?’
“We’ve tried several times to get some kind of grocery store on the street or some kind of bank on the street, and the first thing they say is, ‘We need the population base down there before we can do anything.’”
After this project is completed, the CGDA will move on to their fourth initiative—an affordable condo development that is expected to appear on an empty lot near the corner of Gottingen and Gerrish Streets.