What a vacant Oxford Street property says about housing in Halifax
Building advertised as 'secure and private living,' sits empty
December 10, 2021, 2:45 pm ASTLast Updated: December 10, 2021, 2:45 pm
The walls of 1945 Oxford St. are crumbling. Its sunken roof and vacant windows are a clear sign to the neighbourhood: No one lives here.
Sheila MacLeod lives across the street from the vacant property. She knows that people are curious.
“It’s so common that you’ll see people go up to the door or into the windows and just look in,” MacLeod said.
“They’re just looking to be like, ‘What is with this house on a pretty busy street? Sort of an expensive area, and it’s just abandoned. Abandoned?’”
MacLeod has lived on Oxford Street for about six years. In that time, she said, she’s never seen anyone use the building, aside from a man she called the police on last spring.
“There was somebody who was like, hiding in the back of it and kept coming down in between the buildings,” MacLeod said. “The police were like, ‘We know exactly the guy,’ because they had been looking for him everywhere.”
“But I don’t know, how long was he in the house?”
Oxford Street serves as an important corridor between the shopping district along Quinpool Road and the universities on Coburg Road. The neighbourhood is a mix of middle-class households and low-rent student housing.
1945 Oxford St. is owned and managed by Peppermint Properties. According to public property records, the 4,500-square-foot, two-storey apartment flat was purchased in 2008. It’s assessed at $330,000.
The Signal spoke to several neighbours who said, soon after purchase, Peppermint Properties proposed to demolish the house, along with neighbouring buildings at 1941 and 1937 Oxford St., to expand its apartment complex at 1949 Oxford St.
“I do think that the former owner of this house was just like, very opposed to whatever that design was,” MacLeod said.
Residents said that without community support the proposal was denied by the city.
According to the municipality, there are no records in the last 10 years of a development proposal that would have demolished 1945 Oxford St.
Jill Grant, professor emeritus at the Dalhousie school of planning, said that holding a vacant property in the hopes of a future development is fairly common in Halifax.
“Certainly during the Centre Plan process, I think properties were kind of kept in a holding pattern while property owners were waiting to see if they were going to get more height and more density opportunities on the corridors and other areas,” Grant said.
She said this can be more appealing if the property is in poor condition, as the costs to renovate the building would be more than the owner could make back from renting it out.
“Certainly, when there’s so much demand for housing, it’s a shame to let buildings sit empty,” Grant said. “And every day they sit empty, they deteriorate further, so that the longer they sit empty, the more likely it is that the structure won’t be available for use at some future time.”
‘Very secure and private living’
The property is still listed on Peppermint Properties website, which describes it as “very secure and private living in the middle of the city,” with amenities such as private balconies, a backyard and hardwood floors.
The website states of its two-storey apartment flats: “No units available at this time.”
Peppermint Properties manages almost half of the block between Norwood and Pepperell, with a larger apartment building at 1949 Oxford and two smaller houses at 1941 and 1937.
MacLeod said the condition of the other houses managed by Peppermint Properties are also in rough shape, despite having tenants. She can see the roofs from her third-storey window.
“Every time there’s a big windstorm more stuff blows off the roof,” MacLeod said. “A property management company comes along and they pick up some stuff, but they never repair anything. They just come and take the debris away.”
The Signal contacted the president of Peppermint Properties, Louis Wolfson. He refused to comment.
“I appreciate your interest, but I’m not going to grant an interview,” Wolfson said.
Need for housing
It’s not just neighbours who have taken notice of the empty windows. 1945 Oxford St. is listed on This Should be Housing, an interactive map listing unused properties in Halifax. It was started last spring in collaboration with Halifax Mutual Aid (HMA), a volunteer organization that builds temporary shelters for people who need them.
“It felt like a great idea to create this tool for community members to be able to engage with the city and identify places that could very easily be transformed into housing but are just sitting there unused,” said HMA spokesperson Campbell McClintock.
McClintock said Halifax’s housing crisis will only worsen into the winter, especially after Thursday’s snow.
“But once that snowstorm is over those people are back out on the streets. Meanwhile, there’s all these abandoned buildings,” McClintock said.
MacLeod said people still rent out the buildings next door, despite its rundown neighbour.
“It’s a lot of students or younger people. I think they still get quality renters,” she said.
Hannah Chinnery, a fourth-year Dalhousie student, lives next to the dilapidated building with two roommates. Chinnery said their friends have explored the house and described it as “rundown” and “kind of creepy.”
“Any time someone will come pick us up, or when my mom was here she was furious,” Chinnery said. “She’s like, ‘that’s your neighbour’s house?’ Yeah, it’s abandoned.”
Have a story idea? Let us know