Breaking New Ground in ʔakisq̓nuk

Partnerships build housing capacity and job opportunities

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ʔakisq̓nuk builds new affordable rental homes and upgrades older homes

The three buildings are joined in a U-shape, their doors bright white against the grey siding. Inside, a variety of people live in the two- and three-bedroom units, including a couple with a new baby, a larger family and a single mother.

Completed in 2019, the six-plex, located in ʔakisq̓nuk First Nation in Windermere, is one step in a multi-pronged approach to improving housing in the community.

“Before that, there had not been any new housing construction for around 30 years,” says Dale Shudra, Housing Manager, with ʔakisq̓nuk. “We had older homes and lots of overcrowding because there was just nowhere to go.” Also, people who had left the community didn’t have access to housing if they wanted to come back.

Now—with the support of the Trust, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), BC Housing (BCH), BC Hydro and other organizations—the community is well on its way to providing a range of new housing options and improving existing homes.

A focus on new and old

In addition to the six-plex, four three-plexes are in the works: two earmarked for Elders and two for families. All should be complete in 2021.

In addition to constructing these new rental units, the community is in the process of doing health and safety repairs and energy retrofits on existing homes. When the first two homes were upgraded, they were tested according to the EnerGuide rating system, which verifies energy performance. “They are now better than the average home and a 45 to 50 per cent improvement over before we did this,” says Shudra. The result is “a much more comfortable, safer, healthier, energy-efficient home.”

These projects are supported by the Trust’s First Nations Housing Sustainability Initiative, which helps First Nations communities in the Basin increase the number of affordable housing, complete repairs and energy retrofits and enhance their asset management capacity.

The community is also taking part in the First Nations Asset Management Initiative — a partnership between four First Nations in the Basin, Columbia Basin Trust, BCH, and ISC — which helps the communities manage their housing assets.

“Some of these homes were very overdue on renovation needs,” says Shudra. “It is very rewarding to see them being improved.”

Building Capacity Locally

Having a good place to lay one’s head isn’t the only goal of these projects. “I consider housing an economic development activity as well,” says Shudra, “and we’ve been careful in our efforts to maximize workforce development.”

Over the last year, five to 10 community members have been working on construction and retrofits. To use the first three-plex as an example, “We’ve had people on the project from day one, so they were there when the foundation was being laid and are now laying the flooring. They’ve been exposed to every building component of the home.”

The Band also received funding through the Trust’s Basin Job Experience Program, offered to groups that have active projects or programs with the Trust. This will subsidize four positions in the upcoming year.

Not only are community members getting local jobs, but they’re building skills that may benefit them in the future. “It’s employment,” says Shudra, “but it’s also exposure and training and hopefully leads them down some career paths.”

Impressive progress

Over the last five years, the improvements in housing in the community have been notable.

Some of the older homes have received much-needed upgrades and others are in the queue. “It’s great seeing some of the retrofit renovation work being done,” says Shudra.

“At the same time, it’s exciting seeing the new construction,” he says. Before the six-plex was built, the Band only owned six rental homes. Soon, this number will rise to 24. “It’s a very substantive increase in affordable housing.”

In addition, “We’re getting homes that are definitely of a higher quality and standard than what had been built here before,” says Shudra. “They’ll be enjoyed for a long period of time and will be homes that people will want to look after and be proud of.”

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