The challenges of building a non-profit housing project combined with increased construction costs mean that the groundbreaking for affordable and inclusive development with 91 units in South Surrey will not take place this spring as hoped.

Doug Tennant, UNITI’s chief executive officer, confirmed this week that the organization – a partnership between the Semiahmoo House Society, the Semiahmoo Foundation and the Peninsula Estates Housing Society – is now viewing September as a “shovel in the ground” for the Harmony project.

“It’s been a little longer than we’d hoped to work our way through the diverse needs of the city, province, and CMHC,” Tennant said via email, noting that the process is both more difficult and costly for a community benefit than he is for a private.

“Construction costs have also increased and we are thinking of how we can close the equity gap that we need to close now (which we are going to do).”

That loophole, Tennant said on Thursday (March 11), is roughly $ 4 million – and “a major hurdle” for a nonprofit.

Harmony is proposed for 5.5 acres on the 15100 block of 20 Avenue. The property is owned by the Peninsula Estates Housing Society and is currently home to 51 townhouses and an 18-unit residential home built in 1983. 17 of the townhouses are to be demolished to make way for the new building, with affected tenants being affected units that are to be given the first crack at a unit in Harmony.

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Tennant expects the Surrey Council to consider the development application in June or July.

On Monday (March 8), the council approved the implementation of a partnership agreement and land exchange to regulate the realignment of the Semiahmoo Trail, which currently runs through the townhouse complex and is offset from the entrance of the path at the north end of 151A Street.

Just over 730 square feet Company owned at 15077 20 Ave. should be reserved for their realignment, it says in a city report.

The conclusion of a partnership agreement, the report said, is an attempt to “facilitate the project, minimize the financial impact of moving the Semiahmoo Trail and support the delivery of affordable rental housing in Surrey.”

Tennant said it was “really good” working with the city of Surrey. However, more support is still needed for nonprofits embarking on such projects.

“The nature of community housing is more difficult … because there is a lot more red tape,” he said, citing things like inheritance and housing contracts that need to be negotiated.

“If this apartment were built in Vancouver, New Westminster, or Richmond, we would get additional community support of $ 1 million or more, either through grants or reduced development costs, or by foregoing those development costs.”

Such support could help lower rents and allow more “Heart of the City Workers” – such as first responders – who currently commute from Chilliwack to actually live in the city they work in, resulting in benefits such as increased local spending and better quality of life, Tennant said.

“It’s such a win-win situation and I don’t think that is being valued as it should be or as valued in other communities now.”

To date, Tennant says 200 people have expressed an interest in Harmony and highlighted the “desperate need” for housing.

The development application provides for the city and society to sign a 30-year contract to secure 75 percent of the units within the new building as affordable rental apartments and up to 25 percent as support rental units for people with disabilities.

It will be the second development of its kind in South Surrey. The first, Chorus – also a UNITI project – opened in November 2016 on the 2300 block of 153 Street.

tholmes@peacearchnews.com
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