New affordable housing for Indigenous families offers hope for fresh start

Mark Louis and his family will be one of dozens moving into a new housing development in Surrey.

Mark Louis's family will be one of dozens moving into the development in Surrey, B.C.

Mark Louis left his hometown in New Hazelton, B.C., to start over in Surrey four years ago. On Monday, he watched as officials broke ground on the redevelopment he and his family will soon call home. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

There's a hole in the ground about the size of two high-school gymnasiums where Mark Louis' apartment used to be in Surrey, B.C.

Hands on hips, he looked toward the mess of gravel on Monday morning. More than once, he pointed to trace the shape of his old building in the air.

"That's my old place," he said. "Well, where my place used to be."

He's nostalgic, but excited to see the tower gone — all because of what's coming in its place.

The site will soon be home to more than 175 affordable rental houses for Indigenous people and their families.

The development, called 'Sohkeyah,' meaning 'robin’s nest,' will be operated by the Kekinow Native Housing Society and offer more than 175 affordable rental homes for Indigenous people and their families. (SMHC)

It's a redevelopment funded by the city, province, federal government and Kekinow Native Housing Society as part of an initiative to tackle housing affordability.

The units will range from studios to two-bedroom family homes. Officials broke ground on the project on Monday.

Louis and his family will be moving in once the development — to be called "Sohkeyah," meaning "robin's nest" — is finished.

Mark Louis stood where his old apartment used to be on Monday, just before officials broke ground on the replacement development. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

It's a homecoming Louis has been waiting a long time to have.

Four years ago, he left his hometown of New Hazelton, B.C., after he was attacked, beaten and left alone in the cold.

He said he lay in frigid, northern B.C. weather for four hours before he was able to crawl to an area where he could phone 911.

After that, Louis moved to Surrey with his four children to start over. They found affordable housing and a supportive community through the Kekinow society.

"Seeds need places to rest, as well as sun and water," he said, referring to his family. "So, I really appreciate it."

With files from Jesse Johnston