A new multimillion-dollar affordable housing project in Nanaimo is designed to build community.
First-time housing developer Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre hopes to break ground this month on a Bowen Road housing project that will be an expression of indigenous architecture, foster community and be part of a vision to improve high-school graduation rates for aboriginal students.
The more than $6-million build recently won development permit approval from Nanaimo city council, which agreed last year to sell 1406 Bowen Rd. to the aboriginal centre for a dollar. The property was previously slated for a supportive housing complex for the city’s homeless.
Chris Beaton, executive director of Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre, said he is excited to be at this stage, waiting for a building permit and a funding announcement from B.C. Housing, which was asked to chip in $4.7 million to the 25-unit project.
“It’s been a long process, longer than I anticipated or wanted, but it’s a great step forward for the city of Nanaimo,” he said, adding the units will be for aboriginal and non-aboriginal community members.
The facility is ‘family focused’ and has units specifically set aside for elders. A mix of tenants is aimed at creating a sense of family and community, according to Beaton, who said a lot of learning is done between meals shared between elders and young people or even adults.
There will be a common room for residents to come together for coffee, plan a meal or watch movies; fruit trees to harvest; natural play areas; and units designed in a townhouse configuration with entry from a courtyard, instead of Bowen Road. Beaton said they could have gone four storeys on the site, but didn’t want people going in the front door, up an elevator and never meeting.
“We kept the units on a smaller scale, where no elevator was needed, no hallways were needed, but you walk out your front door and all of a sudden you are face to face with your neighbour,” said Beaton, adding the design is to encourage community and interaction.
Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre wants to see 100 per cent high school graduation rates for students and also sees safe, affordable and clean housing as being part of that puzzle.
Beaton said a housing agreement with the city will ensure one-third of the units will be at shelter rates (what someone would receive through social assistance) and the other two-thirds would be low-end of market rental rates. For example, Beaton said a three bedroom would cost less than $900.
Tenants will be expected to be on the B.C. Housing wait list first and then there will be an internal application process through the aboriginal centre, likely to be made public in May or June.