A new 23-unit affordable housing complex that opened in Chilliwack for Indigenous people is the first step in addressing the housing needs for a First Nations community, according to a local chief.
“This has been a need for our community for several years,” said Tzeachten First Nation chief Derek Epp. “This was such a huge initiative for us to be able to meet the needs of all of our members… and we realized this is really just the start for us.”
Eagles could be heard calling from the sky as the affordable rental townhouse project was officially opened on Thursday, June 23 on Tzeachten land.
Located at 46600 La:lem Way, the development has a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom homes spread across five buildings.
Monthly rents vary depending on unit size and tenant income. With deep subsidy, rents start as low as $300 to $400 for a one-bedroom unit, $400 to $500 for two-bedroom, and $500 to $600 for three-bedroom. Rents will top out at about $1,200.
The housing will be operated by the Property and Public Works department of Tzeachten First Nation, which has 18 years of experience managing housing and commercial buildings for the community.
When applications opened, Tzeachten got great insight into their community’s demographics, Epp said, adding that they learned where the gaps are in the system and how to address those issues in their next project.
“We had more applicants than we could provide units for which speaks to the needs of housing in all of our communities.”
Starting July 1, young families, elders and others including young adults will start to move in. Applications were open to Indigenous people inside and outside the Tzeachten community.
“We have a lot of families moving home,” Epp said.
The province provided approximately $2.5 million to the project through the Building BC: Community Housing Fund, while the First Nations Finance Authority (FNFA) provided about $5.5 million in low-cost construction financing.
It is the first BC Housing project funded by FNFA in the province.
“It’s the first of its kind, it’s unique. But we hope it doesn’t stay unique for a long time because we hope that other First Nations in B.C. follow the same model to address their housing needs,” said Ernie Daniels, FNFA president and CEO.
Tzeachten First Nation contributed the land for the project, valued at $3 million, as well as $1.5 million toward the construction of the development. Indigenous Services Canada contributed $1.8 million to build a road to the site. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation provided a grant of $138,000 for pre-development costs. An additional provincial grant of approximately $300,000 was provided through the Investment in Housing Innovation Fund.
“Our government is doing its part to make sure people can stay in their community, stay close to their families, their neighbours, their friends and the services that are so important in keeping us together,” said Kelli Paddon, MLA for Chilliwack-Kent.
The new homes are located near the Tzeachten Sports Field Complex, which offers a community garden, playground, sports field, clubhouse and multi-purpose rooms. The site is part of a broader community vision that will see more housing added in the future.
It has been in the works for about 10 years. Initially, the vision was to build an apartment with townhouses, but it ended up being a smaller-scale development with larger units to meet the needs of the membership.
Some units are already outfitted with wheelchair access, while others are designed to be converted into accessible units.
A recently announced pathway project where 800 metres of sidewalks and bike paths will be installed along Chilliwack River Road will make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Construction on the affordable housing project began in March 2021 and was on budget and on schedule.
Epp pointed out that Tzeachten added more funding to the project to increase the square footage of the units, going beyond the BC Housing requirements.
“Some of our kids are being able to have their own bedroom for the first time in their lives,” Epp said. “For me, that is why we do this work.”
But the biggest win is seeing the “joy in so many of our members’ faces in watching this project come to fruition,” he said.
This project is part of B.C.’s 10-year, $7-billion housing plan. Since 2017, the province has funded nearly 34,000 affordable new homes that have been completed or are underway for people in British Columbia, including more than 400 homes in Chilliwack.