Shuswap Band continues to expand community housing options
Floyd Sam enjoys working in his yard in the community he loves. “It’s really good to be here,” the Shuswap Band community member says (also known as Shuswap Band). After living in many other places over the years, he recently moved into a one-bedroom, 736-square-foot duplex, one of eight new units completed for Shuswap Band, near Invermere, in 2021.
With a contemporary design and amenities inside, and a green space and decks outside, Sam appreciates the ability to create a home base he can cultivate. “It’s finally my own place.” After firefighting for 20 years, based out of Cranbrook but working in remote locations, he moved back to Shuswap Band in February 2021 when the opportunity presented itself. Facing health challenges that changed his life and career path, Sam feels that coming home was a perfect fit. “I wasn’t having enough time for myself before that happened,” he says. “I really needed this time…it means I can live again.”
Sam is just one of the people who has benefited from Shuswap Band’s recent push for affordable housing. Since 2018, it has added four new two- and three-bedroom units in two duplexes, plus the eight one-bedroom units in four more duplexes—all supported in part by the Trust.
The number of new homes will increase again when five larger modular homes are delivered to the community planned for summer 2021 but delayed due to the impacts of the wildfire season. Each home will be over 1,000 square feet, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. One will also have a full basement that adds two bedrooms and another bathroom, perfect for a large family.
This will bring the total to 17 new units since 2018—all also supported by the federal government through Indigenous Services Canada or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. “It’s nice to have people back in the community,” says Dolores Nicholas, Shuswap Band Social Development and Housing Manager. “They’re thriving.”
Nicholas mentions stories of members who, unable to find a stable residence in their home community, are forced to move in with family or find temporary, often-expensive housing that may be less than adequate. More housing stock, with reasonable rents, meets an identified need in Shuswap Band, and the larger modulars offer options for growing families to move into bigger spaces, opening up suites for others and enabling them “to join the community, too.”
Michael Stevens, another Shuswap Band community member and one of Sam’s neighbours, also wanted to be closer to home and part of the community he cares about. Even with a job offer elsewhere, he says his personal connection to Shuswap Band and being available to help his neighbours was an anchor in his decision. “I would rather stay here, in the community,” he says. “They see me, and I want to be seen by the community, which works out perfect.” Stevens was able to move into his suite in March 2021 and work nearby. “I feel very fortunate that I can call a place home, where I can actually come home and relax and know that everything inside this place is mine. It’s perfect.”
Elsewhere in the community, energy retrofits and health and safety repairs are on the way for up to 19 existing units, with the Trust and other partners funding energy audits and repairs. When possible, Nicholas says Shuswap Band has been using Basin-based builders, amidst a construction boom in the region that has caused its own set of challenges for many. In addition, these contractors aim to hire Band members to work alongside them, giving them experience they can use on future jobs.
She looks forward to more projects that will continue to increase the housing stock, supporting families, elders and young adults. “It’s so important for our young adults to have their own place,” she says. “If they have their own place, they learn responsibility.” Overall, she says that Shuswap Band is proud of what it has accomplished so far and sees many more opportunities ahead. “The community, and Chief and Council, appreciate what the Trust has helped us with achieving.”
High-quality housing options
The Trust’s First Nations Housing Sustainability Initiative helps First Nations in the Basin enhance and increase their affordable rental housing. The collaboration began after the Trust heard from ʔakisq̓nuk, ʔaq̓am, Shuswasp Band, Yaqan NuɁkiy and Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it that affordable housing is a challenge, and ways in which the Trust could support this work.
Launched in 2017, the initiative offers support in three areas: asset management and capacity building, energy retrofits and repairs, and new builds. So far, nearly 80 affordable units have been built or are under way, and over 200 additional homes have been assessed for energy retrofits and health and safety repairs, have been repaired or are in the queue. Also, through the Trust-supported First Nations Asset Management Initiative, First Nations are working together to develop other innovative housing solutions, enhance their processes and capacity, and develop staff skill sets. BC Housing and Indigenous Services Canada are also supporting these housing initiatives. Between the construction, ongoing asset management and administration of housing, these initiatives also build the skills of First Nations members and provide employment where possible—creating impact that goes beyond the buildings’ four walls.