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Lax Kw’alaams breaks ground on 70 unit affordable housing development

The 11th Ave project aims to be built in the next two years, though it faced some initial opposition
Councillor Braden Dudoward led the Prince Rupert Dance Group at the Lax Kw’alaams Community Hall. (Seth/Forward)

Lax Kw’alaams has broken ground on its new 70-unit 11th Ave housing development, which aims to address some of the city’s desperate housing needs.

Initially put forth by the Lax Kw’alaams-owned WAAP Housing Society in 2018, the site’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was followed by dancing and dignitary speakers on Oct. 12.

BC Housing will be investing $22 million into the development near Charles Hays Secondary School, which has not been popular among all Prince Rupert residents.

The five-story development, which was approved by the City of Prince Rupert in November 2021, will include 12 senior housing units among the 70 according to Lax Kw’alaams Councillor Harvey Russell Jr. and Mustafa Khulkhan, project manager for the WAAP.

Affordable housing will be a much-welcomed addition to the city for the 1,400 Lax Kw’alaams members, according to former Councillor Stan Dennis.

“We have a number of our members that live here,” he said. “We have been looking forward to this for a number of years with regards to having a place to call their own.”

Having new Indigenous affordable housing units in Prince Rupert will free up more rental space in a city with an extremely low vacancy rate, according to Russell Jr., who was also the master of ceremony for the ground-breaking celebration.

Multiple speakers remarked on the difficulties presented to some who live in the building site’s area, noting that Russell Jr. had to face particular criticism for his role in the whole process.

Lax Kw’alaams Mayor Garry Reece expressed his dismay at what he heard during earlier public forums for the building.

“I attended one of the meetings… where some of the people living around that area didn’t agree with us building there and it was sad to hear some of the remarks that were made,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with my people. They’re going to be living in the area, they’re just like everyone else, no different.”

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Prince Rupert’s previous council facilitated the lease of the building site, and WAAP said they have had the city’s backing the whole way. The dire lack of housing has been a consistent topic at City Hall lately.

As the housing crisis continues to rage across the country, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach said this project is the type of housing required to meet communities’ needs.

“The kind of housing we need more than ever is affordable housing that ordinary people can afford,” he said. “That’s why it’s so wonderful to see projects like this project taking place that are going to provide families in this community.”

Developing the notoriously pesky muskeg and bedrock foundation in Prince Rupert is no small task, said North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice.

“We know that building in Prince Rupert is difficult,” she said. “But we’re doing it. We know we’re in a big need for housing here.”

Reece also expressed the band’s interest in building more housing developments, something Russell Jr. and Kulkhan said is already in the works.

Member Brenda V. Wesley addressed the politicians in the room, telling them she was extremely concerned with “criminal” interest rates, which she believes will have major ripple effects for Lax Kw’alaams members trying to rent in the city.

Rice added that the affordable housing units will bring “peace of mind” to many residents.

Harvey Russell Jr. hopes the housing development will free up more space in the tough Prince Rupert rental market. (Seth Forward/Northern View)
The housing development was initially going to have 50 units, but the WAAP Housing Society was able to secure 20 more. (Seth Forward/Northern View)
Dignitaries and Lax Kw’alaams band members gathered to break ground on the historic housing project on Oct. 11. (Seth Forward/Northern View)

About the Author: Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative

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