Lydia Howard of the Dze L ‘Kant Friendship Centre spoke to the District of Houston council Feb. 5 about housing opportunities. (Smithers Interior News photo)

Social services society outlines opportunities

Identifies need for safe, secure housing in the area

A Smithers-based social services society has started what one of its employees terms a conversation on opportunities for more safe and secure housing in Houston.

“It was about how communities can be proactive,” said Lydia Howard of a presentation made by the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre to the District of Houston council Feb. 5 on the growing involvement of senior governments to provide money for affordable housing.

The friendship centre offers social services in Houston, Smithers and Dease Lake and has now partnered with a lower mainland-based housing society to explore housing options for Indigenous peoples.

And although the senior governments will supply money, a key requirement to a successful application is to either lease land from a municipality or have purchased it at a price lower than market value.

“The provincial government recently announced plans to invest $355 million to create more than 2,000 affordable rental units across B.C. in the next five years,” Howard’s presentation to council stated.

“We believe that given the identified need in our community, we must seize these opportunities.”

Dze L’Kant’s housing partner, Lu’ma Development Management, is itself a partnership between the Lu’ma Native Housing Society which has housing units in 14 buildings on the lower mainland and Terra Housing, a real estate firm.

Although there were no statistics specific to Houston identified in the presentation, it did note that 72 per cent of the 29 homeless people surveyed in Smithers in April 2018 were Indigenous.

It also noted that province-wide surveys have found that high rents, income that’s too low and unavailability of suitable housing are key factors to proper housing.

“Research states that youth and women are more likely to couch surf or life in unsafe conditions to avoid street homelessness,” the presentation continued.

The District of Houston has already taken steps toward one request made by the friendship centre and that’s for a housing needs assessment.

“Our application for $10,000 of rural dividend funding to support the development of a housing needs assessment was recently approved, and council will be considering a final funding request for this project to include it in the financial plan for 2019-2023,” said District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck.

Housing needs forecasts are now to be required as part of a municipality’s official community plan.

The potential for the District to partner with the friendship centre in an affordable housing project, should the need for it be established, is also a possibility, said Pinchbeck, although the district has not made a firm commitment.

“This could involve site identification and acquisition, as well as accessing BC Housing funding for the development of affordable housing,” he said.

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