BC Housing and the M’akola Housing Society are funding four more subsidized apartments in Queen Charlotte.
What is now a two-storey office building by Martin Manor will be renovated into four apartments — likely a pair of one-bedroom and a pair of two-bedroom suites.
Intended for seniors and small families with low or middle incomes, the “fourplex” project at the corner of Third Street and Second Avenue is the second major Haida Gwaii project announced by BC Housing this year — construction is already underway on a 19-unit apartment building in the village for people at risk of homelessness.
“Housing here is so tight, so tough, we’re constantly getting people asking us for anything,” says Barb Rowsell, executive director of the non-profit Queen Charlotte Heritage Housing Society.
“So this is four more families who will get homes. That is so good.”
BC Housing will contribute $400,000 towards the project, part of a province-wide push to build 4,900 subsidized rental homes for middle-income earners.
North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice said she is happy for the village, and credited former mayor Greg Martin and the Queen Charlotte Heritage Housing Society for being tireless housing advocates.
“I think they did a really good job depicting the housing needs,” she said.
Rice said she is also proud of the B.C. NDP government for making affordable housing a priority after what she said were years of neglect. The government is budgeting $6.6 billion for 114,000 new social housing projects over the next 10 years.
Rice recently joined related groundbreakings for a new women’s shelter in Kitimat, and a new housing project in Terrace for people at risk of homelessness.
“We’re trying to target a lot of different demographics,” Rice said.
“That includes working people who aren’t necessarily in the top two per cent.”
Besides quality of life, Rice said housing shortages affect the economy since employers lose prospective workers who can’t find a nearby place to live.
Other provincial housing initiatives include a joint federal/provincial plan to fund more co-op housing, plans to build more social housing for Indigenous people who don’t live on a reserve, and a legislative change that now requires most Airbnb and other home-share users to collect provincial sales tax.
“Of course we can’t do it all — we would love to do it all — but I think it’s a pretty good start,” Rice said.
BC Housing is not the only supporter of the Queen Charlotte fourplex.
Another $100,000 will come thanks to the M’akola Group of Societies, one of two housing agencies that are having to sell existing subsidized homes in Queen Charlotte because a 30-year federal housing program is winding down.
Between M’akola and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AMHA), the village is losing a dozen single-family and duplex units with rent subsidies, even as it is now gaining 23 mostly single-bedroom apartments.
Greg Martin, the former mayor of Queen Charlotte, said it was Kevin Albers, CEO of M’akola, who agreed that a share of M’akola’s local building sales should stay on island.
The Heritage Housing Society has also applied for a $150,000 Gwaii Trust grant to support the fourplex renovation.
Martin and Rowsell said the building is in good shape, but while the interior walls were designed to be easily renovated, plumbing and wiring for new bathrooms and kitchens will be costly since it has a concrete slab-on-grade foundation.
They also said the renovation will help the housing society’s bottom line, since it previously relied on office rents to support its housing program, but has been unable to enough find tenants recently.
Asked about the overall housing picture in Queen Charlotte, Martin said there are still challenges — many people now commute from Tlell, Miller Creek, Lawn Hill or Sandspit because they can’t find an affordable home close by.
Looking ahead, Martin said the village still needs more small-size suites for older couples looking to downsize, and he hopes that co-op housing can address some concerns about rising house prices.
“Co-op housing is one of the most comprehensive answers to that,” he said.
Rowsell said there is no shortage of people needing homes, or people who want to live in Queen Charlotte.
“An unusual trend we’ve found in the last few years are young people who come here for work, and the parents are following them!” she said.