The Wachiay Friendship Centre has been providing vital services for Indigenous residents of British Columbia’s Comox Valley since 1995.
While its programs and services have grown exponentially over the years, affordable housing has remained a long-standing issue in the small city of 30,000 – particularly for seniors.
“The majority of people accessing emergency shelter here are seniors over the age of 70,” explains Roger Kishi, Coordinator for Wachiay’s Homeless and Housing Programs. “That’s how we decided we wanted to develop a housing project serving Indigenous elders.
A long time goal of Wachiay has been to provide affordable housing for Indigenous people in their community. Wachiay first had to secure rezoning permits for converting an existing parking lot into a five-storey apartment building. Next came the challenge of securing appropriate funding. The Friendship Centre sought the expertise of M’akola Development Services in 2020.
Wachiay obtained seed funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and pre-development funding from BC Housing to begin the project, along with regional affordable housing funds. BC Housing requires all new builds to incorporate high standards of energy efficiency.
FCM’s Sustainable Affordable Housing (SAH) initiative, delivered through the Green Municipal Fund (GMF) and funded by the Government of Canada, has therefore proven to be an ideal support for Wachiay’s planning process. SAH offers assistance in all stages of affordable housing development. SAH’s Regional Energy Coaches (RECs) provide affordable housing providers with free services ranging from project management and technical support, to walk-through energy assessments and one-on-one coaching.
“It’s important to address climate change issues, and one of the significant returns on investment for an energy-efficient build is greater affordability for tenants.”
- Roger Kishi, Coordinator – Homeless & Housing Programs, Wachiay Friendship Centre
Wachiay Friendship Centre’s energy modelling, architectural, building envelope, and mechanical consultants have been working collaboratively to reach the project’s sustainability goals. The design of all building systems has not been finalized, but the following measures are among those currently being planned to meet project targets:
- High-performance roofing, windows, slab on grade, and wood-framed exterior walls
- An airtight building enclosure
- Reduced lighting power density in all suites and common areas
- Low-flow fixtures
Wachiay hopes to break ground on their project in early 2023, with construction wrapping up in fall of 2024. The apartment complex will add 40 units of sustainable affordable housing to Courtenay’s landscape, including both studio and one-bedroom apartments for low-income Indigenous seniors and adults.
Advocacy is critical to success.
When Roger began speaking to local officials, he quickly realized that most did not understand the funding burden incurred by private non-profits wanting to develop new affordable housing. “People thought that since we had been selected to proceed with BC Housing, our project was fully funded,” he says. “But that's not the case… We’re going to have a larger mortgage, and we need to think about what financial sustainability looks like.” Raising awareness of true development costs amongst City council members helped Wachiay secure additional project dollars from the region’s affordable housing fund.
The importance of outside expertise.
“Being a housing provider, and being a housing developer, are two different skill sets,” says Roger. “So, you want to focus on building a strong team: looping in development consultants, engineers, and architects amongst other professions for support.” Wachiay Friendship Centre is working closely with M’akola to bring their vision of sustainable, affordable housing for Courtenay’s Indigenous communities to life. The organization has also benefited from the support of FCM’s SAH initiative. https://greenmunicipalfund.ca/sustainable-affordable-housing
Energy efficiency yields many co-benefits.
Building greener housing not only plays a role in slowing the impacts of climate change, but also provides cost savings for tenants and improves their quality of life. While the initial upfront investment in energy efficiency may have higher costs at the development stage, it will ultimately lead to lower utility bills for those struggling to afford the cost of living. Green builds solve environmental challenges economically, while also meeting your community’s critical housing needs.
Want to explore all GMF-funded projects? Check out the Projects Database for a complete overview of funded projects and get inspired by municipalities of all sizes, across Canada.