BC Housing is providing funding to an affordable housing project located within Squamish First Nation’s Capilano Reserve No. 5 in North Vancouver, marking the first time the provincial government will finance housing projects for First Nations on reserve lands.
The Xwemelch’stn Housing Project, spearheaded by Hiy̓ám̓ ta Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Housing Society (HSHS), is located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Welch Street and Mathias Road — just east of the Lions Gate Bridge.
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The housing society, with its name meaning “The Squamish Are Coming Home,” was established by Squamish Nation Council in October 2019. Through Hiy̓ám̓, the First Nation is aiming to build over 1,000 units of affordable and supportive housing on its lands.
The complex of buildings will reach up to four storeys in height, containing 95 affordable rental homes, including 40 ground-oriented units and townhouses, and 55 apartment units. The unit mix is 16 studios, 50 one-bedroom units, 18 two-bedroom units, 10 three-bedroom units, and a single five-bedroom unit.
Xwemelch’stn offers a mix of rents for a range of incomes, with 20% of the units deeply subsidized starting at $375 monthly for a studio or one-bedroom unit, 59% of the units at housing income limits starting at $837 monthly for a studio or one-bedroom unit, and 30% of the units as affordable moderate income homes starting at $1,030 monthly for a one-bedroom unit.
In addition to income considerations, the building’s occupants will have a multi-generational mix of tenants, with 59 units dedicated to elders and 16 units set aside for vulnerable youth, including 11 lock-off studios in the townhouses that have the potential to be integrated with family units above.
“The project consists of a range of housing choices in a multi-generational housing approach, mixing Elders, families, and youth in a wholistic community which will foster positive intergenerational relationships,” reads a project backgrounder.
“This unique opportunity to reimagine traditional Squamish longhouse living practice of shared accommodation seeks to create a grounded living context of mutual support and learning opportunities.”
The First Nation indicates there is a dire need for more on-reserve housing, as over half of its members are currently living off-reserve, often under high market rents. A total of 1,039 Squamish Nation members are on the housing wait list, with the most recent housing allocations offered to members who have been on the waitlist for over 30 years.
The design by Urban Arts Architecture features solar screens with Squamish form line designs, a blanket pattern for the entrance into the apartment building, the incorporation of the Squamish language in all signs across the site, and landscaping with a community garden and “culturally relevant and and evocative structures” at key nodes.
As well, cultural art and dance spaces will be built in to create a sense of place and pride.
Additionally, the complex will include a community grocery store operating under the cooperative model, with the space doubling as an informal community gathering space.
Construction on the project is slated to begin in March 2021 for completion by May 2022. The general contractor has committed to hiring Squamish Nation members.
The Squamish Nation’s Capilano Reserve at the north end of the Lions Gate Bridge spans 384 acres, covering the area that includes Park Royal shopping centre and a portion of Ambleside Park.