A housing shortage in Nova Scotia has created another hurdle in the struggle to attract doctors, but the business community in Yarmouth thinks it may have come up with a solution.
The Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce and Coastal Financial Credit Union have teamed up to build a five-unit apartment building exclusively for doctors.
“We were surprised how many doctors that we’ve talked to stated that (the housing shortage) as one of the most difficult things moving into a community,” said Kerry Muise, chair of the chamber of commerce’s doctor recruitment team.
“Especially if you’re an international doctor moving in, often they can’t get financing right away until they’re actually living in Canada for new housing, and also just the ability to look for it.”
The new apartment building is the shared vision of Muise and credit union CEO Rick Doucette.
Doucette said every day, he’d drive by an old brick building on Vancouver Street — not far from the Yarmouth Regional Hospital — and dream of renovating it into housing for doctors.
“In order for this community to thrive, we need a strong health-care infrastructure,” Doucette said. “And as a community-based financial institution — where our profits go back to the community — we didn’t see anything we could have invested in that would have a far greater reach than doctor recruitment.
“[Doctor recruitment] is something that affects every single person, and touches every single person in this community. So we want to be part of it on a big level.”
Muise said 350 families have moved into Yarmouth in the past two years alone, drawn to the region thanks to its relative isolation from COVID-19. But contractors are months behind on new builds.
After their first meeting back in 2019, the credit union and the chamber realized they shared the same priority: creating better housing to attract and retain doctors.
The credit union bought the brick house on Vancouver Street for $180,000 and immediately started renovations, but quickly realized it was a money pit.
The home was knocked down and construction began earlier this year on a bungalow-style building that will be ready to welcome tenants by mid-November. The chamber is leasing the building for $1 per year and acts as landlord.
“I think this unit is a fantastic asset to the community,” said Muise. “It’s brand new, energy-efficient. It’s exactly what our medical residents need.
“It has clean, bright spaces — places where you can sleep on a 12-hour shift and it’s pretty soundproof, close to the hospital. So you can literally come here without a car and be at the hospital in 30 seconds and walk home at night and feel safe.”
It’s affordable, too. Medical students — who typically visit the Yarmouth Regional Hospital for a week at a time — are charged $10 per night. Locums can rent a room for $500 per week, and residents pay $1,200 per month, including utilities.
The philosophy is if you can make a good first impression on a young doctor and make housing less of a struggle, that doctor will be more likely to stick around.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Dr. Abir Hussein, head of Dalhousie University’s family medicine residency program and postgraduate site director for the university’s South West Nova teaching site.
“It’s a great place. It’s very close to the hospital. I think it will attract more students, more medical learners, and hopefully will make it easier for residents to find a place to live for two years when they come to South West Nova for their training.”
Dr. Melissa Power, who this week announced her decision to stay in Yarmouth after her residency is over, said the town has a tight-knit medical community.
“It’s really just a matter of me finding a place where I can fit in and I feel supported by the community and that there’s activities that I enjoy doing. There’s a friend group that I’ve made,” said Power.
“I know there’s lots of opportunities like that throughout Nova Scotia, and I’m just I’m lucky that I found such a supportive group here in Yarmouth.”