Two new affordable housing projects, which will provide 68 new homes for some of the city’s vulnerable populations, were officially opened in Quesnel last Thursday (July 25).
People with low to moderate incomes, Indigenous people, seniors and families will all be able to take advantage of the two new builds, which are located centrally in the downtown Quesnel area.
Dakelh and Quesnel Community Housing Society’s new development is a 38-unit building, which includes 11 accessible units. It is a four-storey building which is comprised of studios, as well as one-and-two bedroom units.
Monthly rent ranges from $375 for a studio unit to $950 for a two-bedroom apartment.
The facility’s opening ceremony was held on the building’s second-floor patio, where about two dozen people gathered to listen to speakers, including Malachy Tohill, the regional director for B.C. Housing for the northern region.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful building,” he said to the crowd before pointing out the Government of Canada provided a combined investment of nearly $1.6 million for the project, and the Province, through B.C. Housing, also provided $5.5 million in grant money.
“This new project will make a real difference for the people in this community, and what we are doing here in Quesnel is a model for what we’re doing across the province.”
An enthusiastic Mayor Bob Simpson also said a few words about the project.
“On behalf of myself and City Council, we’re thrilled to be partaking in the official recognition of this building and its contribution to our community,” he said.
“We have a community that is in transition,” he noted, “and as part of that transition, housing is fundamental to us achieving our desired outcomes. And that’s the full spectrum of housing from shelter through supportive housing, through affordable housing and into market housing — and as many people here know, we’re working on a comprehensive housing strategy that brings all of these pieces together and gives us a road map going forward.”
In addition to thanking, B.C. Housing, Simpson also had some compliments about what Dakelh and Community Housing Society had to offer when originally coming to council with the proposal for the housing.
“The strength of your knowledge, your expertise, your ability to come to council with a product that we can understand [was valuable],” he said. “Not only do we get a development permitting process that is easy to expedite through council, that involves a knowledge of the community that is really deep and understands what we need to do to get to quick approvals; but the quality product that comes out of that and the quality management that occurs post project is what gives us the licence we need to continue to make these sorts of investments in our communities.”
Luanne Ruotsalainen, executive director for Dakelh and Quesnel Community Housing Society, was outwardly emotional following Simpson’s speech.
The realization of the valuable project and getting to present in front of her mentor, Aboriginal Housing Management’s Margaret Pfoh, occasioned her taking a break or two, but she was able to express her thanks and give the audience a background on the society.
She said it started in 1987 by building 10 units, and they have now built almost 200 homes for people.
“When we have our housing, it’s not just to build a beautiful building,” she said. “We want it to be people’s homes. We called his building Kikina, and in Cree, that means “our home,” so that’s what we want for our tenants that live here and enjoy this beautiful home.
“The comments that we have received from many of our tenants is ‘we’re very proud to live in this home.’ So we’re very proud to be able to give that to them and support them in making success in their lives.”
Also celebrating its grand opening on July 25 was the Quesnel Lions Housing Society’s Silver Manor at 255 McNaughton Ave.
Aimed at seniors, the building has provided 30 affordable one-bedroom units within its four-storey structure, which is built to adaptable and accessible standards.
Monthly rent for the units is $575.
For this project, the federal government, through CMHC, and the provincial government, through B.C. Housing, together contributed approximately $307,000 under the Social Infrastructure Fund.
The provincial government also provided a $4.8 million grant, as well as interim construction financing of $1.6 million.
Tohill recalled standing in this spot when it was just an empty lot and expressed how amazing it is to return and to see all the tenants here.
“It’s about the people who have lived here most of their life, and you get to stay here and age in place,” he said.
Tohill thanked the partners who made this project possible and particularly thanked the City of Quesnel and the Quesnel Lions Club.
“Projects like this wouldn’t be achievable without the commitment and strong partnerships we have,” he said.
Simpson said this is a co-operative project, but the leadership “definitely” came from the Quesnel Lions.
“You were an early start in our desire to move into housing in a different way, so as a result, you bore the brunt of us asking a lot of questions at council,” he said. “I know it was a slog, but I thank you for your patience, and don’t we have a beautiful facility.”
Simpson thanked MLA Coralee Oakes for all her hard work on this project.
“This is a project that without the Province, it wouldn’t happen,” he said. “Thank you for your contribution. It was essential.”
Oakes was excited to share this day with the community.
“I feel we are a home with great heart, this facility,” she said. “I know it’s filled with love and so many pioneers and people who have made this their home. When I look at a facility like this, I think of our volunteers and I think of the people who work tirelessly day in and day out. I just had the opportunity to see the walls with all the bricks [bearing the names of donors] on them, and I just thought ‘we are a community that can do.’”
Mitch Vik, president of the Quesnel Lions Housing Society, was very proud to celebrate the facility’s grand opening.
“We have a lot of thank yous today, but I want to start with a thank you to the residents here,” he said. “They’re wonderful people, and they’ve been very patient with us. I’m thankful for them making a home here and bringing that love here.”
This project came about after the late Ron Silver started a survey to see what people wanted, and the answer was housing, explained Vik.
“This has truly been a grassroots endeavour, and it’s eight years in the making,” he said. “Never has a project consumed us so much. We have had so much support in our community to bring us to this day.”
— with files from Lindsay Chung