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shíshálh Nation addresses housing crisis with barge-brought repurposed homes

Renewal Home Development has partnered with shíshálh Nation to refurbish homes and barge them to the Sunshine Coast, to offer affordable and sustainable living options for Nation members

Some unusual marine traffic will be heading to the Sunshine Coast over the next month. Ten houses from the Lower Mainland in good condition and saved from demolition will be barged to the Coast where they will find a new home at shíshálh Nation’s Selma Park development.

“We're making housing a priority for our community because we've been in such a deficit for so long,” said lhe hiwus yalxwemult (Chief Lenora Joe), citing that there are 200 nation members on their housing list and hundreds more living outside of the community who want to move home.

With the help of Renewal Home Development, homes will be barged from Port Moody to Porpoise Bay in coming weeks, where they will be refurbished and made available to the Nation.

Why Barge Homes?

yalxwemult explained that the two main reasons the Nation was drawn to this project were speed and cost.

She said that based on the construction market, it would cost the Nation around $450,000 per house to build, whereas through the use of renewable housing and government grants, they can reduce the cost to approximately $200,000 per house. 

Another benefit of using renewable housing is the speed of the process. yalxwemult said that most projects take anywhere from six to 18 months to complete depending on available contractors and materials and that this was the fastest way to bring new homes into the Nation. 

Barging homes is nothing new to shíshálh Nation – yalxwemult said that in 1970 the Nation barged up 40 homes, many of which still exist in the community.  

“Old homes have very good structures, they have very good bones and very good foundations compared to the houses we're able to build today with the same amount of money,” she said.

yalxwemult said that this project outlined how the Nation would provide not only homes but sustain the environment as well.

“Anything and everything we do, it's always looking at our environment, how do we sustain ourselves? How do we ensure that what we're doing, as we're moving forward, that we're always taking into consideration what we're affecting, and what we're saving, and what we're killing,” she said.

Glyn Lewis of Renewal Home Development said that he approached Wesgroup Properties when he heard that they had purchased 60 homes in Port Moody to tear them down. Lewis offered to remove the 10 homes deemed in good enough condition to be repurposed at the same cost it would take to tear them down.

“So instead of paying a demolition company, pay us to responsibly remove the homes and we will work with a community to repurpose them as affordable low-carbon housing,” he said.

Lewis said that 2,700 homes are demolished across Metro Vancouver annually to make room for higher density homes, 700 of which are in perfectly good condition. 

This means that roughly 40 per cent of Vancouver's landfills are made up of construction and demolition waste, he said. 

While the homes being transferred need some modernization, Lewis said that the 1960s ranchers and bungalows are structurally stronger than the homes that get built today, as well as having a 20 per cent lower carbon impact as opposed to building new homes. 

yalxwemult was invited to tour one of the homes that will be barged to the Sunshine Coast, “It was beautiful. I was saying that I wanted that house.”

The homes will look brand new when the new families move in, said yalxwemult, explaining that facets such as windows, doors, toilets and flooring are all going to be upgraded with sustainably sourced replacements. 

This initiative is also creating work in the shíshálh community. yalxwemult said that community members who own construction companies and other related industries were given first preference to work on the project.

The Nation is in the process of securing additional funding, which would allow them to build basement suites, allowing two families to live in each home. 

 yalxwemult said the idea for the basement suites came from the number of families that want to live together, saying as an example a family of three could live on the ground floor, and grandparents, aunts and uncles, or even siblings could reside in the basement suite.

“We're trying to keep families together,” she said. 

Lewis explained that there were more houses they wanted to recover but that were simply too large to transport, so instead his team is salvaging products and materials from them. 

Fixtures for kitchens and bathrooms, double-pane windows, cabinets, vanities and appliances are some of what is being taken from the homes that would have been demolished. 

Looking to the future

Creating more housing for shíshálh Nation is critical yalxwemult said. The Nation has 200 people on its housing waitlist and many homes have multiple families residing within, she said.

“When I say 200 people, that's people living in our community, we have 700 people living outside of our community throughout North America who would all love to move home, but we don't have enough space or housing for them.”

She said that as the Nation is working on this housing project, it is already looking ahead to the next one.

All of the funding for Selma Park has been designated, and the Nation is developing a strategic plan to handle how future phases will progress. 

yalxwemult guessed there could be 10 possible phases over the next decade while the Nation works towards its goal, but she hopes that it gets finished sooner. 

The voyage

The reclaimed homes will get quite the tour on their trip to the Coast. 

The first two homes are scheduled to leave Port Moody on April 2. They will be transported to Coquitlam where they will be loaded onto a barge on the Fraser River. The barge will travel down the Fraser, across Howe Sound, up around the Skookumchuck Narrows and down into Porpoise Bay.

The houses are expected to be ready for residents in the fall, while details such as the possible addition of basement suites are determined. 

Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.