SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- Residents of Saint John’s old north end are excited to see the development of a new affordable housing project in an area of town they say has become more accustomed to boarded-up buildings, demolitions and suspicious fires.

The 14-unit apartment building stands out in an area that hasn’t seen activity on this scale in a long time.

“It’s well built,” says Violet Pike, a resident of Saint John's north end. “I’ve met some of the men and they’re very kind people, they seem to be in good humour.”

The new development is part of a rejuvenation project called Victoria Commons, spearheaded by a coalition of housing co-ops and applauded by affordable housing advocates.

“It’s really good to see somebody taking that on, putting up a brand new building,” says Brent Harris, founder of the nearby Saint John Tool Library. “Lots of units, and hopefully that generates more activity,”

The developers hope to bring shops and small businesses back to the neighbourhood too.

The area still has its share of issues.

On Saturday night, the Saint John Fire Department was called to put out a suspicious fire in a vacant and dilapidated building nearby.

Demolitions have been frequent as well. In recent years, the city launched an aggressive program to clear out some of the problem buildings.

“This is the return of our investment right here,” says Saint John councillor John MacKenzie.

McKenzie says the Victoria Commons project is just the beginning of a $2-million neighbourhood renewal.

“If you get rid of the old stock and make room for new stock, then you’ll get it,” explains McKenzie. “But you won’t get it if there’s old stuff around you. Nobody wants to build next to dilapidated buildings.”

Residents and affordable housing activists are hopeful that a corner has been turned for the neighbourhood after decades of neglect.

“Development is contagious. If somebody takes a risk on something, it’s a cue that it’s worth taking a risk on,” adds Brent Harris.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the construction schedule, but the building is still on track to open this fall.