A black-and-white sketch of the location of the proposed affordable housing project.

Photo Credit: Citaapi Mahtii Housing Society

Could an Old School Become a New Home?

Port Alberni Indigenous communities come up with an innovative plan for affordable housing in the city

It was all support at the public hearing

Port Alberni City Council held a public hearing that could bring more affordable housing to the city. And in a lovely turn of events, no one really objected to the proposal.

The Citaapi Mahtii Housing Society has proposed changing zoning bylaws at 4210 Cedarwood St. That’s the site of an old elementary school. The change would allow for the construction of a four-story building full of affordable housing units.

The proposed structure will have eight studio units, seven one-bedroom apartments, four two-bedroom units, 12 three-bedroom suites, and four four-bedroom units.

Housing in Port Alberni is getting more expensive. But the new building would have enough space to make a big difference in the city’s affordable housing problem.

The new project would join other innovative affordable housing developments in Port Alberni, like the Highview Apartments and Maitland Street Village.

Price Leurebourg is the city’s development planner. He told council back on May 9 that the proposal is “consistent with the surrounding neighbourhood.” The new building would sit among other residential homes and park space.

But the public hearing gave folks a chance to speak to the need for the project and city residents to ask questions.

Representatives from Indigenous Nations showed up to support the project. They say the building could have a positive impact on Indigenous folks especially.

Mariah Charleson is the vice president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. She said that racism continues to be a problem for Indigenous people looking to rent a place.

“Many can’t rent once the landlord sees the colour of their skin,” said Charleson.

She said the project could do more than improve the lives of indigenous and non-indigenous people who need housing. It could also be a chance for real reconciliation between the city and its Indigenous residents.

No one spoke out against the project during the meeting. But long-time Port Alberni resident Jeff Cook of Huu-ay-aht mentioned how tough things have been for past projects. He brought up how past projects have been positive for the community, even though there were naysayers.

“When Ma’kola Housing went up, people in the neighbourhoods protested, ‘Not in my back yard.’ Everything worked out, and low barrier housing has been beneficial to all.”

Solutions to the housing crisis take creative solutions. Sometimes it takes a while for folks to warm up to new ideas.

If the project moves forward, the property will be rezoned to RM3 High Density Multiple Family Residential from P2 Parks and Recreation.

Port Alberni City Council will be voting on the proposal sometime this month.