Ahousaht families struggling to find affordable rentals in Port Alberni may soon find relief when their nation finishes construction of its new building, according to elected Chief Greg Louie.
The City of Port Alberni is dealing with a critical housing shortage. According to a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation report, the rental vacancy rate was three per cent in 2020. Add to that steep increases in rent, the city’s housing situation makes it more difficult for families and singles to find affordable homes.
In 2019, according to the same CMHC report, a three-bedroom unit in Port Alberni would cost renters between $949 to $1,231 per month. A survey of classified advertisements in January 2021 shows two-bedroom units renting for $1,100 to $1,300 per month, according to the CMHC report, although assessed property values in Port Alberni have risen significantly since.
Chief Louie said his council heard from Ahousaht people living in Port Alberni during meetings with urban members about four years earlier.
“We heard our people saying we need housing,” he told Ha-Shilth-Sa.
With more than 500 Ahousahts living in Port Alberni, the First Nation’s council jumped on an opportunity presented by BC Housing to deliver options in the city. Louie said that BC Housing offered funding to support Indigenous developments.
Ahousaht councillors toured Port Alberni with a realtor a few years ago, and, with the support of the City of Port Alberni, settled on suitable site.
The Citaapi Mahtii Housing Society, with representation that includes Ahousaht members living in Port Alberni, plans to redevelop a former school site located near the Fall Fair Grounds.
“The development will create 35 new homes in a new four-storey building located at 4210 Cedarwood Street. This will be the redevelopment of a vacated school facility,” reads a notice from DYS Architecture.
The Citaapi Mahtii Housing Society is working to create a community that embraces Indigenous history, values and culture. It will have a multi-purpose gathering space suitable for drumming and serving food to crowds.
The four-storey building will have eight studio units, seven one-bedroom apartments, four two-bedroom units, 12 three-bedroom suites and 4 four-bedroom units for a total of 35 housing spaces. It will allow for a more inclusive community atmosphere.
Ahousaht has consulted with Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations. According to Louie, an apartment unit each will be made available to their members. In addition, their members will be invited to apply for construction jobs once ground is broken, hopefully in 2022.
Still in the design stage, Louie hopes architectural drawings will soon be presented for approval. Ahousaht has hired a consultant to take care of applications and other paperwork.