An affordable housing project for Indigenous people in Surrey broke ground on Monday.
“It’s a new beginning to an era of Indigenous housing,” said Shelly Hill, CEO of Kekinow Native Housing Society, which will operate the facility. “It’s also an opportunity to showcase the need.”
Hill noted Surrey’s Aboriginal population exceeds that of Vancouver’s, and “there is a definite need for more housing in Surrey. It’s instrumental that there is more affordable housing opportunities for seniors, youth and families.”
The project has been in the works for five years, she revealed.
“It’s very exciting,” said Hill. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this so to see it come to light, and to have the opportunity to carry it through, the vision that was set by founding members, is definitely an honour.”
The project is a redevelopment of Kekinow’s existing housing project at 7561 140th St., that has 33 existing townhomes which, as Hill explained, “no longer meet the demands of family composition.”
The redevelopment will mean a mix of bachelor, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, to serve youth aging out care, small families and elders.
Monday’s groundbreaking marked the beginning of first of two phases of the project. In all, the project will replace the existing three-bedroom units with 176 new rental homes.
The new housing development will be named “Sohkeyah,” meaning Robin’s Nest.
Rents are projected to range from $550 to $1,300 per month.
One of the property’s current tenants is 45-year-old Mark Anthony Louis, who lives there with his wife and their four children.
“I feel it will help the future,” he told the Now-Leader, “because it’s targeted housing for elderly, people at-risk, youth who are aging out. It will benefit them because I used to be a foster kid myself and it’s kind of like a dream come true. What I wish I had is happening for other kids. They’ll have a good foothold in the ground to stand on as they become mature.”
Louis said he grew up in foster care and when he aged out, he ran away from home, living on the streets for a while.
“I treated all that great by my foster family at that time period, so when the time came that they had no power over me, I left. I lived on the streets for a bit,” he said. “But I survived. I eventually went to college and university and met my wife.”
Louis has lived in the Newton Klekinow complex since 2015 and said it was a marked improvement from his previous living conditions — both rental market housing and when he lived on reservation is Kispiox.
“It was a night and day difference from anything we’ve ever been to,” he said.
Some of his children are already adults themselves, and he hopes to see them move into the new development.
“I’m just happy for all the collection nations that are going to be addressed and that there is something out there,” said Louis. “There’s a lot of people that feel left out because of residential schools and how much that syndrome has affected our people.”
While the redevelopment means the families who live there must move, Louis said “there will be 100 families that are affected positively.”
“But it’s building, it’s constructive. It’s addressing a big need, and that’s all that matters.”
The project has received support from the City of Surrey, with city council approving the project on Feb. 20, 2017.
“The comprehensive redevelopment of Kekinow Native Housing Society’s affordable rental housing project in Surrey is yet another example of Kekinow’s diligent efforts to ensure residents on limited incomes are given the best chance to thrive and reach their full potential,” said Mayor Linda Hepner.
She noted Kekinow has played a “critical role in providing shelter for Indigenous people” for decades.
Kekinow’s President Dr. June Laitar thanked the City of Surrey and funders for “making this become a reality.”
The federal and provincial government are together, contributing $8.5 million to the project.
Further, the federal government has committed another $442,000 through its Homelessness Partnering Strategy, and the provincial government is providing a loan of up to $8.1 million to help with construction financing.
“Our government is investing in affordable housing in British Columbia and across the country to help create jobs and improve the quality of life for people who need it most,” said Sukh Dhaliwal, Surrey-Newton MP, in a release. “When complete, this first phase of development will bring 73 much-needed affordable rental housing units to Surrey—a new place to call home for Indigenous families in this community.”