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Aunt Leah’s hopes to build a 77-unit, six storey building on Marine Way in New West

New Westminster housing project to support youth aging out of foster care and women at risk of homelessness gets provincial funding.
The province has approved funding so Aunt Leah's Properties can build affordable housing on two properties in New Westminster.

Two single-family lots in New Westminster will be transformed into an affordable housing development – if all goes according to plan.

New Westminster MLA Jennifer Whiteside announced Tuesday that Aunt Leah’s Properties’ application to the Community Housing Fund has been successful. The New West-based non-profit plans to build 77 units of housing for youth aging out of foster care and women at risk of homelessness.

“I’m thrilled to see our community receiving vital funding for 77 new affordable rental units through Aunt Leah’s Properties,” Whiteside said in a March 19 news release. “These units provide homes to youth aging out of care and young mothers who are at risk of losing their children. Offering young people stable housing is an important step in breaking the cycle of homelessness.”

Whiteside said this investment will help address the pressing need for affordable housing in our community, as work continues to ensure every person has a safe and stable place to call home.

According to a press release from the New Democrat caucus, the Community Housing Fund is a $3.3-billion investment to build more than 20,000 affordable rental homes for people with moderate and low incomes by 2031/32. It stated that projects were prioritized based on several criteria, including prioritized populations and the effect they would have in addressing the community’s affordable rental housing need.

Aunt Leah’s Properties is proposing to create 77 housing units in a six-storey building at 1923 and 1927 Marine Way – a site in close proximity to the 22nd Street SkyTrain station, the Queensborough Bridge and Grimston Park. It was one of 17 new projects in Metro Vancouver have been selected through the third intake of the Building BC: Community Housing Fund.

Jacqueline Dupuis, executive director of Aunt Leah’s Properties, said the non-profit has been working on this project for about a year and had considered a couple of locations. She said the society has an offer to purchase in place for the two properties on Marine Way.

“The funding will help us purchase the land, as well as build the building,” she said. “And then we'll be seeking additional funding from CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing).”

Dupuis said the housing will provided much-needed housing for youths who are aging out of foster care in B.C.

“We know that there's around 1,100 youths aging out of care in our province every year,” she said, adding statistics show youth aging out of care account for many youth who become homeless.

Dupuis said the New West project would provide youths with a safe, secure place to live, where they can access supports and services provided by Aunt Leah’s – both on-site and up the street at its offices on 20th Street.

“They provide life skills support for youth aging out of care and support them on their journey to independence,” she told the Record. “What we found is that … safe, secure housing is foundational in the journey to independence; once that is in place, they have a much better chance at moving through the journey successfully.”

In addition to providing programs for youths who are aging out of care, Aunt Leah’s offers programs and services for young mothers who are at risk of losing custody of their children. Housing for moms and children is currently provided in group homes.

“Just getting everybody housed is the critical piece, and then they can access what they need from Aunt Leah's and other partners to support them in their journey,” Dupuis said. “But with the moms and babies, this gives them an opportunity to move from a shared group home kind of setting into an independent space.”

Dupuis said location on Marine Way is great for its future residents because of its close proximity to the SkyTrain station. She said the location also provides Aunt Leah’s with an opportunity to leverage the transit-oriented development benefits that the province has put in place related to developments in close proximity to transit.

A work in progress

Dupuis said the non-profit is hoping to move through the rezoning process for the project by the end of 2024 and to begin construction in mid-2025. (Because the project is in the conceptual stage, no renderings are available.)

“We're just really grateful to the municipality of New West and the constituents for continuing to support this kind of housing and the very vulnerable populations that need it,” she said. “We are great neighbours and supports, and I think we just look forward to further developing these relationships.”

While the province announced it will fund this project, it hasn’t stated how much funding is being provided for this development.

Aunt Leah’s Properties, which was founded as Aunt Leah’s Foundation in 2013, was created to oversee the non-profit’s mission of providing affordable housing for new mothers and young people navigating their way out of the foster care system, said the organization’s website.

Lynn Roxburgh, the city’s manager of housing and land use, said the city has had “early conversations” about the proposed project that’s now been selected through the Community Housing Fund.

“We look forward to working with Aunt Leah's Properties on next steps as they apply to rezone the property,” she said in an email to the Record. “Given the priority of creating new affordable housing, the goal is to present the application to council for consideration of approval before the end of the year.”

Asked about the need for this type of housing, she said city council endorsed a Housing Needs Report in 2021 that estimated a need for 2,083 new affordable housing units (below- and non-market) in New Westminster by 2031 – which means the creation of 208 new units each year.

“Development since the adoption of the Housing Needs Report has not met this goal. In future years, additional affordable housing units are required to make up for this shortage,” she said. “The proposal from Aunt Leah's Properties to develop 77 new homes for young adults and women at risk of homelessness will help meet the need for affordable housing identified in the city’s Housing Needs Report.”