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Songhees Nation building first new homes on reserve in almost 20 years

Three levels of government were at the construction site on Friday to announce a $24-million contribution to the four-storey, 66-unit rental building on Admirals Road.
Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan talks to Songhees Nation councillors, from left, Karen Tunkara, Jackie Albany and Margaret Charlie at the site where new housing will be built at 1502 Admirals Rd. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Songhees Nation is building its first new housing in nearly two decades with the help of nearly $24 million in government funding.

When complete, the four-storey, 66-unit rental building on 1502 Admirals Rd. will be the Songhees Nation’s first member housing project since 2005.

Three levels of government were at the construction site on Friday to announce the $24-million contribution to the below-market rental project on Songhees reserve land.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, who was in Victoria for two housing-related announcements on behalf of Housing Minister Sean Fraser, said housing is top of mind for everyone. “It doesn’t matter if your office is right here or it’s down at the legislature, or it’s back in Ottawa — housing is the job right now.”

Against the backdrop of the building’s nearly complete wooden frame, Songhees Elder Frank George thanked those present in both English and Lekwungen for their efforts.

“This building is very important to our Lekwungen people,” he said. “Thank you for your na’tsa’maht mind, unity, and all this work.”

The 66 below-market units will prioritize Songhees members as occupants. Expected to be complete in 2025, the building will have 30 studio units sized at 413 square feet, with 24 one-bedroom units and 12 two-bedroom units ranging from 500 to 753 square feet.

Rents in the units are geared to income, meaning that rent is no more than 30 per cent of income.

Melanie Ransome, a spokesperson with Aryze Developments, said they were able to speed up the development process by using a building design patterned on another Aryze project in Quadra Village, a 64-unit, five-storey apartment building.

“It was less than a year ago today that we submitted the funding application for this project and here we are now with construction well underway and framing nearing completion,” she said.

Songhees councillor Karen Tunkara said the project is just the start of a larger housing plan for the nation. “This project specifically will not address all the needs of our nation members wanting to come home.”

Tunkara said the housing situation for the nation is “dire.” About half its 600 members currently live on its primary reserve, according to the Songhees Nation website.

The nation is planning to add up to 240 more units of housing within its reserve lands, though it has not publicized the plans for three other buildings that are in the works.

“We have a plan, a larger housing plan for this land as well as other pieces on our existing reserve,” Tunkara said, adding that more customized housing will be needed for Songhees members who live intergenerationally. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Tunkara said the nation is considering developing a location at 1500 Admirals Rd. where a daycare currently sits. “Our goal would be to also still have daycare on the site, but it might not be in this building.”

Speaking on behalf of Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA and Minister of State for Child Care Mitzi Dean said B.C. will announce another round of community housing project funding this year that will include more Indigenous-led housing projects. “Nations are wanting to have good, affordable, good quality housing in their communities.”

Zac De Vries, chair of the Capital Region Housing Corporation, said Indigenous-focused affordable housing is in high demand in the capital region. “We’re proud to work in partnership to support one of the priorities identified in the Songhees Nation strategic plan.”

Funding for the Songhees housing project comes from the federal Rapid Housing Initiative, a joint federal-provincial Federal Canada Community Housing Initiative grant, as well as in-kind design services from developer-builder Aryze Developments.

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Note to readers: This story has been corrected. A previous version gave incorrect information on rental rates in the units.