Squamish Nation entering 'new era' of affordable housing, says council member
First Nation has voted in in favour a series of housing developments in North Vancouver
The Squamish Nation has approved a plan to build three affordable housing complexes on reserve land on the North Shore. The sites will offer a total of more than 400 homes, providing exclusive accommodation for hundreds of Squamish members.
"We're entering a new era of building affordable housing for Squamish people," said Khelsilem, a spokesperson and councillor for the Squamish Nation council who uses a single name. He said he felt "elated and very grateful" for his community's overwhelming support for the project.
"I think people are excited and looking forward to us breaking ground on the first project, and then working towards construction on the others," he said.
The project, which includes building 280 units near North Vancouver's Phibbs bus exchange, was approved in a land designation referendum vote on July 28. Approximately 550 members cast their ballot, with more than 80 per cent of them voting in favour of each site.
The Squamish Nation owns the land, but under the Indian Act it can only move forward with these affordable housing projects if a majority of its members vote in favour of using the designated sites for that purpose.
Construction planned for early fall
The First Nation does not need approval from Metro Vancouver or the districts of Squamish or North Vancouver to start construction. However, it has to work out service agreements with each municipality to secure amenities such as garbage collection or water.
The first site to be built is a 94-unit housing complex located on Mathias Road in North Vancouver, across the street from the Capilano Reserve Park and near the Lions Gate Bridge. It will accommodate elders, families and youth.
It will have a community garden and a co-operative grocery store owned by the community. Construction is expected to start in September and be completed by the end of 2022. An agreement with Metro Vancouver is already in place to service the site.
The second site is a four-storey building located on Government Road in Squamish and will offer 30 units as well as a variety of shops. The Squamish Nation will apply for funding to build it at the end of the month.
Located north of Phibbs Exchange on Orwell Street in North Vancouver, the third site sits on the former CH'ICH'ÉX̱ WÍ7ḴW village. It is the largest one, encompassing three blocks in length.
The funding, design plans and project timeline still need to be finalized for the last two sites.
The Hiy̓ám̓ ta Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Housing Society, a non-profit organization established by the nation to manage its affordable housing projects, is overseeing the development of these units.
Sarah Silva, the society's CEO and a member of the Squamish Nation, said the project will promote and preserve the Squamish culture.
"We can be close to our families, we can be close to cultural support," she said. "We want to have a building that reflected our traditional way of living, and that is living together like we did in Longhouse where the youth and the elders support each other."
These homes are part of Squamish Nation's strategic priority to house all of its members within 25 years.
"We've been a bit of a laggard in delivering enough affordable housing for our community," Khelsilem said, adding that this development would help achieve this goal.
There are currently about 1,000 people on the Squamish Nation's housing wait-list, some of whom have waited for more than 30 years to get affordable housing.
The Squamish people will vote on three additional sites next year.