Thirteen units of affordable housing have officially opened in Vernon.
The units at 6335 Okanagan Landing Road come in one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom varieties, thanks to a partnership between the City of Vernon, BC Housing and the Okanagan Village Housing Society.
The City of Vernon provided the land for the development and a 35-year lease at just $1 per year.
The tenants — all of which are low to middle-income earners — have already moved in.
“The units are for a diverse group of low to middle income folks, so it could be a senior, it could be a family, it could be a single mom, we don’t have a specific criteria except that they need help with housing,” Margaret Penner, chair of the Okanagan Village Housing Society, said at a ribbon cutting event for the project Friday, April 14.
Penner said getting the land from the city was key to being able to provide the homes at an affordable rate and keep the project on budget.
“That’s what it takes to have affordable housing,” she said. “You’ve got to take the cost of land out to even come close to making the math work.”
Penner said the units are all different and the developer, Faction, “did a wonderful job to take this piece of property and maximize it to 13 units … they’re all quite unique.”
She said the building filled up very quickly and there were a lot of applications.
That’s reflective of the affordable housing crisis that has plagued not only Vernon, but the province as a whole.
The project was largely funded by BC Housing and Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu was on hand to speak to what her NDP government is doing about the housing crisis.
“In 2019 we created $7 billion to build affordable housing and a recent announcement was for $4.2 billion in housing as part of the refreshed housing strategy,” she said. “I’m proud to say that we have more than 74,000 homes completed or underway in communities throughout B.C.”
Sandhu mentioned an encounter she had with a Grade 11 student that resonated with her. The girl’s family was living in one of the motels the province purchased as a short-term solution to housing shortages. Then they were able to move into an affordable housing unit.
“She had tears in her eyes … she said ‘my family would be homeless if these investments weren’t there,’ so coming from somebody who is exactly my daughter’s age, it was reassuring and a reminder to what we need to continue to do, and as your local MLA, what I need to continue to remind my government and everybody working together. That’s how these investments are making a difference,” Sandhu said.
Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said he believes the community can get behind a project like this.
“The citizens of Vernon I think in general understand why we would do this with their taxpayer’s money, to be a partner in this,” he said.
“And then substantial investment from the province, it just wouldn’t happen without BC Housing.”
Cumming said the city will look to engage in more partnerships and projects such as this one in the future.
“This isn’t our only (project) but we see this as part of our strategy to find these pieces of land that make good sense and add significant value to them by bringing in partners like the province,” he said.
He added these types of projects make Vernon a more desirable place to live and go a long way to fixing the problem of employee shortages.
“When we talk to the business community the number one issue they have is employees, and the number one issue when we talk to employees is affordable housing, so this is where it starts.”
Penner said the Okanagan Village Housing Society isn’t done ribbon-cutting just yet. They’ve got a second project that’s opening up on Pleasant Valley Road this month as well, which has 12 units.
“This will be our fourth project and we’ve got some feelers out and we’ve got a few things to consider at our board meetings, possible properties in town as to whether it can work,” she said.