Nothing is more “topical” than affordable housing according said one of the speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony and blessing on Friday for the new Urban Village project in Chilliwack.
“We’re going to honour and root it in indigenous culture with regards to design and construction, but we also want it to be welcoming for the whole community,” said Margaret Pfoh, executive director of Mamele’awt Qweesome Housing Society
“I truly believe we need to do things right from the beginning, and this is a good start for us.”
The groundbreaking and traditional blessing of the ground were completed with the accompaniment of traditional singing and drumming, and a few short speeches from a range of dignitaries.
The mixed-use 80-unit Urban Village by Mamele’awt Qweesome Housing Society (MQHS) will house low-income families and youth at risk of homelessness, as well as a commercial component.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a more forward-thinking community to work with than what you lead here,” Pfoh told Mayor Sharon Gaetz, about her experience in Chilliwack.
“My hands are up to all of you for your hard work.”
Pfoh noted it was fortunate the project approvals for the Urban Village from Chilliwack only took about six weeks to come together.
“We did it in record time,” said Pfoh.
She praised the support of mayor and council for the smooth process of rezoning and variance approvals, as well as to B.C. reps for provincial approval for capital funding of the project.
She warmly thanked the MLAs, Minister Rich Coleman, the members of her MQHS team, consultants, and partners.
Mayor Gaetz in turn thanked Pfoh and Mamele’awt Qweesome “for all you’ve brought to our community.”
The snow-covered site of the latest affordable housing project in Chilliwack was strewn with fallen branches and broken twigs on Friday morning from the recent ice storm.
“We just went through one of the biggest storms the community has ever seen, and coming here today, it is very evident the results of that storm,” said Mayor Gaetz. “So I was standing here listening to the singing and the drumming today and thinking about the people who will live in these homes one day.
“They may be somehow be disadvantaged, having gone through storms we couldn’t imagine. Some will have lost families, and some will have lost their homes. Some may have had drug addictions or mental illness.
“Like these trees, that once stood proud and strong, the same creator that will bring life and greenery back to these trees, can bring it to the people who will live here. So I too pray a blessing for all those who will find shelter here, and I give thanks too to the province for a wonderful example of what can happen when people come together and dream big.”
The vision to build this affordable housing project has actually been five years in the making, Pfoh told the small crowd. MQHS hosted a Housing Summit last year in Langley, inviting Lower Mainland communities to join them in their vision of finding a community in which to build this affordable housing project.
Having worked closely with Minister Rich Coleman, Pfoh said the rest of Canada is very jealous of British Columbia’s approach to building affordable housing.
“We are ahead of the game when it comes to putting housing to ground,” said Pfoh, adding they wouldn’t be where they were if it weren’t for the province’s support.
A $500-million investment in affordable rental housing was made by Province of B.C. in 2016 to create 2,900 new units of affordable housing, the largest housing investment in a single year by any province in Canada.
Capital funding of $11 million from BC Housing came through for the project last fall.
Chilliwack MLA John Martin said “nothing was more topical” in B.C. right now than the pressing need for more affordable housing.
“So this is spectacular moment for Chilliwack,” Martin said at the groundbreaking.
The community has risen to the occasion, with different elements working “cooperatively and collaboratively” to make this housing project happen and fall into place as quickly as it did.
“This is so emblematic of Chilliwack and what it does. Again Chilliwack punches above its weight.”
The plan for the 80-unit Urban Village is to operate with a 60/40 split of market rentals to affordable housing units, with the ground-floor for commercial use.
Some will be rented out at market rates, while the balance will be affordable housing units, subsidized by the higher revenue rentals to be able to offer them at shelter level rates for low-income families and youth.
The building will be constructed on Yale Road, between Airport and Parr Roads.
Construction is set to begin by summer 2017, with completion in spring 2019.