Council in Surrey, B.C., has voted in favour of an inclusive housing project during its last meeting ahead of this month's civic election — more than a year after it initially rejected it.
The six-storey building planned for the 15100-block of 20 Avenue will offer 91 units below market rates. The project, called Harmony, has an emphasis on housing for people with intellectual disabilities.
It was proposed by UNITI, an organization comprised of Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and the Semiahmoo Foundation, three non-profits dedicated to housing that own the land Harmony will be built on.
Last July council voted down the project, which had the support of then-housing minister David Eby — who said it was an example of how a much-needed housing project can get mired in red tape.
Doug Tennant, CEO of UNITI, said he was disheartened by that initial decision and that Mayor Doug McCallum and the four councillors who voted against the project failed to give reasons why it was rejected.
"To be let down with no reason being given was very difficult and, in fact, traumatic for many," Tennant said.
He said he's not sure what led to the turnaround, but it might have stemmed from the fact that the height of the project — six storeys — became less of a factor as private developers have purchased nearby properties and are likely to push for larger buildings.
Tennant also credited McCallum for visiting the inclusive rental housing complex Chorus Apartments in South Surrey last week, another UNITI facility that's similar to what is envisioned for Harmony.
"I think the realization of our model helped him shift his perspective and support the project," Tennant said.
CBC has contacted McCallum for comment.
Eby, who stepped down as housing minister in July to run for the B.C. NDP leadership, said he was happy to hear of the approval, but was disappointed it took so long.
"It's just really frustrating when those kinds of developments get turned down or get tied up in bureaucracy," he told CBC News.
"The costs have gone up quite dramatically for this non-profit organization and it's an illustration of how we all have to do better at the provincial level, at the municipal level, around getting approvals for housing done faster."
Eby's recently released affordable housing plan proposes provincial permitting regulations that he described as a "one-stop shop."
"We have to have a more predictable process," he said. "That's going to bring costs down."
Tennant said he is grateful for the vote, but Surrey still has a long way to go.
"This is the type of housing that is desperately needed in the city," he said.