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Fernie’s North End Court affordable housing project includes a 35-unit apartment building and 14-unit townhouse complex.

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New affordable rental units in Fernie take a bite out of the housing crunch

Forty-nine. For a small community like Fernie, 49 new affordable places to live is a significant number. “I’m hoping it will fill a lot of the need,” says Gayle Vallance, President of the Fernie Family Housing Society, which is leading the development.

With move-in anticipated for spring 2022, North End Court will include a 35-unit apartment building and 14-unit townhouse complex. Located near schools and the hospital, these will offer a range of sizes, from one to three bedrooms, geared for families, seniors and individuals with low to moderate incomes.

The project is happening with support from the Trust, in partnership with BC Housing. This collaboration has enabled the creation of hundreds of affordable housing units in the Basin in recent years—including Fernie’s. In 2020/21, the Trust committed $4.3 million to help create 161 affordable housing units in nine communities.

Vallance says the housing problem has grown since the tourist boom started in the 1990s. As a result of the community’s rising popularity, “Affordable housing is almost nonexistent in Fernie at the moment,” she says. “It has driven up the costs of purchasing housing, and rental accommodation is totally out of range for a lot of people.”

It affects these people themselves, who may have to couch-surf to stay in town or commute from the next community over like Sparwood—“which is not ideal, especially in the wintertime.” It also affects the local economy. “Businesses in town have difficulty hiring, because people will come to Fernie and say, ‘I can’t find any place in Fernie that I can afford, either to rent or buy.’ This will solve a bit of that.”

Basin residents have identified affordable housing as an essential part of healthy and resilient communities. The Trust has included housing as a strategic priority and works to support local and regional housing priorities including affordable housing options, and gather additional funding opportunities for Basin projects. In addition to working with agencies like BC Housing, it encourages groups to undertake affordable housing projects by, for example, helping them in the early stages of developing their concepts so that they can also attract other resources and project partners.

“The fact that they give us those grants for developing proposals and so on—these are so essential to small groups like ourselves,” says Vallance. “There just isn’t the money available otherwise.” She also wanted to recognize all the other organizations that have had a hand in increasing affordable housing in Fernie over the years, including the Province, the City of Fernie and the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre.

North End Court adds to the two locations the Fernie Family Housing Society already runs: 32-unit New Horizon Village and 27-unit Tom Uphill Manor. These focus on families, single parents and seniors. The new units will also accept individual adults, which will be a welcome addition.

While it’s too early to sign up to rent a unit, “We’ve had a lot of interest,” Vallance says.

By fall 2022, tenants will be happily settled into their new homes in this East Kootenay mountain town.

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