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Squamish Nation to get 95 affordable apartments

The Squamish Nation will soon be getting its first ever affordable housing project on reserve funded by the province.

The Squamish Nation will soon be getting its first ever affordable housing project on reserve funded by the province.

Tucked into a barrage of announcements in the waning hours of the NDP-Green government Sunday was funding for 95 units of affordable housing in Xwemelch'stn Village (Capilano 5 reserve).

It is the first time an on-reserve housing project has been funded by the B.C. government.

“I'm so excited that this really needed housing is going to be built in the heart of our community,” said Sarah Silva, CEO of the Hiy̓ám̓ ta Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Housing Society, the band’s non-profit housing authority.

The project contains 95 units in townhouses and a four-storey apartment building at the corner of Welch Street and Mathias Road, plus 32 surface parking spots, 44 underground spots and 101 bike lockers.

Squamish Nation council voted in 2018 to form the Hiy̓ám̓ Society, recognizing the acute housing need Squamish members have. Less than half of the band’s membership live on reserve and there are more than 1,000 members on the nation’s housing wait list. Like many First Nations, the Squamish have issues with homelessness as a result of poverty and the residential school system, Silva said.

“But unlike a lot of other First Nations, we're located in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in the world,” Silva said. “A lot of our members have been pushed out and are paying rents that are just way outside of their affordability. There was a real need to be able to bring them home to their supports, and to their culture and to their family and language.”

The location was chosen specifically because of its proximity to the Xwemélch’stn Etsimxwawtxw Capilano Littlest Ones school, longhouse, elders centre and the Chief Joe Mathias Centre.

Under the province’s Community Housing Fund, 20 per cent of the units must be rented at a deep subsidy, reserved for people on disability or income assistance. Half of the units must be for households making up to $48,000 per year, costing no more than 30 per cent of their income. The remaining 30 per cent of the units will be offered at below-market rates for moderate income earning households earning up to $74,000.

The Xwemelch'stn units will be targeted for elders, families and youth.

“The idea is that everyone's going to be living together and supporting each other in the building,” Silva said.

The final designs are not yet complete, but Silva said they will pay special attention to make sure the homes carefully reflect the culture of the people living there.

The Xwemelch'stn project is just the first such project Hiy̓ám̓ has in mind. The nation has set a goal of building 1,000 units of housing.

“The current model of building single-family homes wasn’t meeting the need,” Silva said “So we're looking to do more high-density, more medium-density projects in North Vancouver and up in Squamish.”

The plan is to start construction on the Xwemelch'stn Housing Project in March 2021 and have residents moved in by May 2022.

“Yes, it’s ambitious, but I think, with housing, you need to be ambitious,” Silva said.