Squamish Nation to Vote on Land Designation for 3 Affordable Housing Sites

The future of the Squamish Nation Council’s plans to create a variety of affordable housing options on reserve to “bring people home” will soon be on members.

On July 28, Squamish members will be invited to vote in a referendum on land designation for three sites chosen for affordable multi-unit housing projects to provide hundreds of new homes exclusively to First Nation members. . Two sites are located in communities in North Vancouver, Mathias Route and Orwell Street, and the third is in Squamish, at Government Street.

The Bring Squamish Home Project is led by the Nation’s Hiy̓ám̓ Housing Society as part of a larger goal of housing every Squamish member within a generation, or 25 years.

The Squamish Nation Council voted in 2018 to form the nonprofit, recognizing the acute housing need of Squamish members.

“Fifty-four percent of our [4,000] members currently live far from reserve lands and often live in difficult and expensive housing situations, ”said Khelsilem, Dustin Rivers, Squamish Nation Council spokesperson.

“They often pay market rents which are quite expensive. Sometimes pay 50 percent or more of their gross income for shelter and lodging. “

He said the nation’s desire is to build many types of affordable housing for their people, as well as meet the various needs that exist in the community. Collective housing would provide options for seniors, families fleeing violence, members with low income or at risk of homelessness, and students.

The Welch and Mathias Road project in the community of X̱wemelch’stn (Capilano IR No.5) in North Vancouver has already received funding from BC Housing and seed funding from CMHC and would be the first to be developed if the land designation is approved.

Located adjacent to the Nation’s Elders Center, the 94 affordable housing project would include mixed-use housing for independent seniors, families and youth, a cooperative grocery store and a community garden. The buildings would include 59 independent senior citizen housing, 19 family housing and 16 youth housing.

Squamish Nation says the target population chosen for the project was based on community engagement and the results of the 2019 Housing Needs Survey.

“The housing will foster intergenerational relationships and provide a unique opportunity to reinvent the traditional Squamish longhouse living practice of shared housing,” says the Squamish Nation.

Construction could start as early as fall 2021 if all goes according to plan.

The second site is on Orwell Street in North Vancouver, where the village of Ch’ich’éx̱ wí7ḵw (Seymour Creek IR No. 2) once stood, north of Phibbs Exchange.

The site has the potential to accommodate three housing blocks and 280 units with a mix of one, two and three bedroom studios.

The project is still in its early stages of development and its design, timeline and plans would be refined based on community consultation, funding availability and post-voting partnership opportunities.

The third site in the community of Siy̓ích’em (Seaichem IR No. 16) in Squamish, west of Government Road, between Brackendale and Garibaldi, could accommodate around 30 units with a mix of studios, one bed and one bedroom. two rooms. The proposed design is currently a four-story modular structure, but the timing and final design is also dependent on funding possibilities and approval of the land designation.

“The three locations of the referendum vote for the designation of the land are close to community amenities, utilities and, in some cases, transit points,” Khelsilem said.

“These sites are ready to go and we can put housing there quite quickly. “

Before the Hiy̓ám̓ Housing Society can begin construction and secure the necessary leases and financing for construction, Indigenous Services Canada, under the Indian Act, requires members of the Nation to vote in a referendum on secret ballot to decide whether to designate land for affordable housing use. A majority of the members, 50 percent plus one of the voters, must vote in favor of the designation of the land.

Khelsilem said the decision to provide affordable housing on reserve was “a bit of a paradigm shift”, but it was a “really important” decision to be able to house more members.

“I think members of our community who have lived in the community and live on a reserve, and who probably have some sort of housing security right now, are wondering why we are going to start charging the rent on some of our units. in the reserve, ”he said. .

“The reality, the real truth, is that we are going to be able to build a lot more housing by taking out low interest government loans to finance the construction.”

He said, for example, that the 94-unit project on Mathias Road is expected to cost around $ 30 million.

“The Nation does not itself have hundreds of millions of dollars to devote to this type of project, we really need federal and provincial funding to support us through this. The opportunity is that by using federal-provincial financing and loans, we can build a lot of housing very quickly. There would be nominal rent to help cover mortgage costs and help cover ongoing maintenance and operating costs. “

Khelsilem noted that the ability to have cheaper rent and return to the community would be a welcome relief for many members living off reserve.

“We have people paying $ 2,600 to $ 2,800 for a two bedroom in Coquitlam and they could come back and live in those units which will cost $ 900 or even less,” he said. “Some of them could cost anywhere from $ 1,200 to $ 1,500, for a two-bedroom.

“We try to give people a lot of options. Many people in our nation pay very high rents elsewhere and would love the opportunity to come back and pay affordable rent.

Members who wish to obtain housing will go through an application process through Hiy̓ám, Housing Society, which would be based on the need for certain units.

If there is not enough support from members during the vote, the nation may lose the funding it has secured so far, Khelsilem said.

“This will make it difficult to access funding for future projects,” he said. “If the Nation tried to do it on its own or considered other funding models, it would mean that the rents would probably have to be much more expensive, because we wouldn’t be able to get the subsidies or the low prices. interest rate loans that we get from CMHC or BC Housing.

Council’s hope is to designate six plots of land for affordable housing over the next two years.

Together, the six sites represent the largest land designation for affordable housing in the nation’s history.

Khelsilem said he didn’t want to predict what might happen in the vote later this month.

“I think the biggest challenge is to get the word out and let our people know what’s going on,” he said.

“We know our people really want affordable housing options. “

Elisia Seeber is the Indigenous and Civic Affairs reporter for the North Shore News. This rhythm of reporting is made possible by the Local journalism initiative.

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