From Longhouse-style Elders’ buildings to new additions and energy efficient upgrades — the Old Massett Village Council (OMVC) is taking a multi-pronged approach to addressing housing needs in their community.
Alfred Adams, housing coordinator for the OMVC, says housing people is a big challenge for many First Nations communities across the country.
“No matter where you go, any reserve, we could be talking about the same issues — we all have the same issues with housing. Overcrowding is an issue, unemployment is an issue, affordability is an issue,” Adams says from his office in Old Massett. “We’ve been working at addressing it by trying different approaches.”
It has been over 20 years since the OMVC has built any homes on reserve, Adams says, so it’s a significant change. The key to success in accessing, matching and securing funds to do much-needed home renovations and new builds is “a good team,” he says.
“We have a good team working on these housing projects. The council is helpful and open-minded, there’s a lot of backing from them and from the community. It’s a positive outcome for everybody…We’re going to keep moving forward as best we can.”
Through the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the council accessed funding to do renovations and new builds. OMVC submitted a proposal to CMHC in 2020 but it wasn’t accepted. They resubmitted in August 2021, were accepted in November, and started clearing lots and getting ready in April 2021, Adams says.
“They had a program with funding to renovate homes or abandoned buildings and we were able to get on board. We now have two four-bedroom units, a few three-bedroom units, and quite a few two-bedroom units,” Adams says.
It was a lengthy process, he says, to figure out who was going to get a renovation or new build. The team prioritized accessibility issues, where there were people in wheelchairs in split-level homes with bathrooms and bedrooms on another level, he explains. They also tried to accommodate women and children units and homes with overcrowding.
A toolbox of solutions
The new builds were made to be more energy efficient. The CMHC required a standard of energy efficiency, Adams says, which they were happy to comply with. The homes are heated with heat pumps and the water tanks have their own heat pump built into them. The windows and doors are energy rated and the homes insulated well which he says makes them more affordable.
“We worked closely with the manufacturer to get the energy standards up.”
The housing team has gotten creative with renovations. If they have the chance to do one, they’ll try and make a lower level a separate suite, turn car parks into new bedrooms, helping find space for people. Through a BC Housing project starting in the fall, OMVC is in the process of developing another 80 to 100 lots within a year and a half.
“Right now, if anybody applies for a new house, we don’t have any property to offer,” Adams says. “Within a year and a half we’ll be back in business…We’re going to keep doing our best to housing our people.”
There are two new Elders’ buildings that local carpenters Chase Samuels and Aaron Guno are fixing up — all the builds are done by locals, using as many local materials as possible. The buildings are shaped like a mini-Longhouse, which Coastal First Nations CEO Christine Smith-Martin says gives her a sense of pride.
“When I see these Elders’ buildings shaped like Longhouses, it feels like someone cares about me, loves me. I can’t imagine how it must feel for the Elders,” she says. Martin, whose late grandmother Lavina White came from Old Massett, says it has been too long since the community has received support for renovations and new builds.
“It’s amazing. The last time I came home I started to notice new houses everywhere. It has been over 20 years since there was a new build, so I was amazed to see the new houses built, old ones taken down, and I just know it means so much to the community. They’re using a toolbox of solutions. There’s no cookie-cutter approach, but a multi-pronged approach.”