Squamish First Nation approves landmark plan to build over 400 affordable homes

Jul 29 2021, 12:20 pm

There was solid majority support amongst Squamish First Nations members to redevelop three reserve sites in Metro Vancouver and Squamish into multi-family affordable housing buildings for the sole benefit of members.

In each of the three votes conducted on Wednesday, one for each site, members were well over 80% supportive of the plans proposed by the nation’s council. All three sites would create a combined total of over 400 highly affordable homes.

The first project that will proceed will be a four-storey, multi-family complex at the northwest corner of the intersection of Welch Street and Mathias Road, located on the east side of the Lions Gate Bridge within the Capilano reserve in North Vancouver. It will have 94 affordable homes for independent elders, families, and youth, as well as a co-op grocery store and a community garden.

The Capilano reserve project saw 84% approval, with 458 out of 547 votes in support. Construction is now expected to begin in Fall 2021.

Members approved 30 affordable homes within a new permanent four-storey modular building on Government Road in Squamish, with 474 out of 551 votes in support — an approval of 86%. Construction could start in early 2022.

Xwemelch'stn Housing Project squamish first nation capilano reserve north vancouver

Artistic rendering of the Xwemelch’stn Housing Project at Squamish First Nation’s Capilano Reserve No. 5 in North Vancouver. (Urban Arts Architecture/Hiy̓ám̓ ta Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Housing Society)

squamish first nation housing government road site

Artistic rendering of the Government Road affordable housing site in Squamish, BC. (Squamish First Nation)

The most significant of these three projects is right next to TransLink’s Phibbs bus exchange near the north end of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in North Vancouver. The site will be developed into a 28-storey tower with 280 affordable rental homes, but this project is still in the design and planning stage.

This major transit-oriented project saw 85% approval, with 465 out of 545 votes in support.

squamish first nation housing seymour site

Conceptual form of a 28-storey affordable rental housing tower on the Squamish First Nation’s Seymour site next to TransLink’s Phibbs exchange. (Squamish First Nation)

squamish first nation housing seymour site

Conceptual form of a 28-storey affordable rental housing tower on the Squamish First Nation’s Seymour site next to TransLink’s Phibbs exchange. The building forms beyond the red triangle are based on the District of North Vancouver’s community plans for the area. (Squamish First Nation)

These three projects account for half of the six projects proposed by Hiy̓ám̓ ta Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Housing Society, the not-for-profit organization established by the nation to plan and oversee its affordable housing projects and multi-faceted housing affordability initiatives for members. Band leadership will return to their members for a second vote on the remaining three project sites on reserve, after more planning work is performed.

The three remaining sites are the redevelopment of the aging Eslhá7an complex at 345 West 5th Street in North Vancouver City, a prominent transit-oriented site on Marine Drive immediately southeast of the Lions Gate Bridge’s north interchange (next to the planned future headquarters of the nation), and a site near the Stawamus reserve in the Squamish area.

These referendums are required in order for the First Nation to put any mortgageable interest on reserve land.

“One of the things we’ve been explaining to people is that we can build hundreds of units per year if we sort of change our thinking around how we get affordable housing built by using low-interest government loans in addition to government subsidies, which governments are now offering to us to create affordable housing,” Squamish councillor and spokesperson Khelsilem told Daily Hive Urbanized in an interview last week.

“By taking out those low-interest-rate loans and the subsidies, we can build a lot of affordable housing, but it is also going to require us to charge rents so that we can cover both the loans and building maintenance. It involves borrowing money to be able to build affordable housing, but that is the way we can build hundreds of units as opposed to five to 15 homes each year.”

All six sites could generate a combined total of approximately 1,000 affordable homes just for Squamish members.

Xwemelch'stn Housing Project squamish first nation capilano reserve north vancouver

Artistic rendering of the Xwemelch’stn Housing Project at Squamish First Nation’s Capilano Reserve No. 5 in North Vancouver. (Urban Arts Architecture/Hiy̓ám̓ ta Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Housing Society)

The Capilano reserve project, for instance, would offer a mix of affordable rents for a range of incomes, with 20% (19 units) deeply subsidized starting at $375 monthly for a studio or one-bedroom unit, 50% (49 units) at housing income limits starting at $837 monthly for a studio or one-bedroom unit, and the remaining 30% (27 units) as affordable moderate-income homes starting at $1,030 monthly for a one-bedroom unit.

With BC’s challenging housing market, these affordable homes are urgently needed to assist members. The First Nation has over 4,000 members, with 60% living on reserve before the pandemic. Over 1,000 members are on the housing waitlist, with some of the most recent housing allocations offered to members who have been on the waitlist for over 30 years.

For previous coverage of the Squamish First Nation’s housing plan, click here.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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