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New affordable housing in downtown New West will change lives

Low- to moderate-income folks in the performing arts will soon start moving into PAL New Westminster on Carnarvon Street.

A new 66-unit affordable housing project in downtown New West is a “game-changer” for some folks in need of housing.

Performing Arts Lodges (PAL) New West features 26 studio and 40 one-bedroom homes, with rents ranging from $800 for a studio to $1,350 for a one-bedroom unit. It aims to provide housing for people with low to moderate incomes.

“We are just really, really, really excited to be here,” said Lynn Ross, executive director of PAL Vancouver. “We can't wait to meet the community and be a part of it. … We're just really, really grateful to everyone involved in the project.”

PAL Vancouver is operating the new building. The non-profit organization was established in 2001 to provide long-standing members of the performing arts profession with affordable housing.

At Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ross told the Record people are “very, very excited” to move into the building in downtown New West.

“We really have a lot of interest,” she said. “We are moving people in in phases, but our first move-in should be in the next few weeks.”

PAL Vancouver has provided housing at its Coal Harbour location since 2006 and wants to provide affordable housing opportunities in other communities.

“It's a game-changer,” Ross said. “We want a PAL building in every city in Metro Vancouver. So, now we have one in New West, and we want multiple. We have 100 people on our waiting list at Cardero at any given time. The need is there; we know that. Now we just need partners, and we had a great partner with BC Housing, Vintop and the City of New Westminster. We just can't be happier, to be honest. It's really, really going to change a lot of lives.”

Ellie O-Day, who was Canada’s first female DJ in a major market rock station, knows firsthand how it feels to be moving into a PAL building, as she lives in its Vancouver building.

“They're going to discover community, which is the amazing thing that happened,” she told the Record. “There are amazing opportunities.”

 Like many others working in the arts, O’Day said she earned less than $30,000 a year and had no pension beyond CCP and OAP.

“When the house that I rented with others for 16 years was finally sold, we were evicted. And I couldn't find a place to live in the centre of the city anymore,” she said. “PAL’s rental assistance allowed me to remain in Vancouver, sell my car, use transit, work from home and retire before I turned 67.”

Each unit in PAL New West includes a kitchen, dining area and in-suite laundry. Residents also have access to an amenity space and a top-floor outdoor terrace in the building.

“It's a community,” O’Day said. “Without that, there would be isolation. What we're fighting against is that senior’s isolation. So, here's to a new community in New Westminster.”

Labour of love

Located at 831 Carnarvon St., the nine-storey PAL New West social housing building was a partnership between the provincial government, PAL Vancouver and Vintop Development Corporation. In addition to the PAL New West building, Vintop’s Carnarvon Street project includes construction of the Ovation tower.

Wendy Wang, Vintop’s director of sales, said it’s been a “labour of love” to build the stand-alone social housing project that provides affordable homes for longstanding members of B.C.’s performing arts professions. She noted it’s the first project of its kind to be completed in the City of New Westminster as a partnership between BC Housing and the private sector.

“We would like to wish the talented local artists and the entertainers who will be living here a very warm welcome home … The stage is now set, and may this warm and inviting space inspire creativity, connection and collaborations for years to come,” she said.

The province, through BC Housing, provided approximately $9 million for the project. Vintop Development Corporation contributed $2 million in equity.

New Westminster MLA Jennifer Whiteside said New West residents enjoy the many wonderful recreational, cultural and artistic opportunities offered in the city, but they’re not immune to rising housing prices.

“We know that some of our some of our community members have been getting priced out of the community that they know and love because of housing affordability challenges,” she said. “And the reality is really no different for local artists and entertainers who make up our thriving artists community.”

Whiteside gave a “huge shout-out” to PAL Vancouver and its partners on this project for supporting the people who have dedicated their career to fostering healthy and vibrant communities through arts and culture.

“These homes will provide relief for those who are already struggling to get by in a challenging economy,” she said.

Coun. Tasha Henderson, who attended Friday’s ribbon-cutting event as acting mayor, said she was struck by a statistic on PAL’s website that said a typical artist has an employment income of $17,300. 

“These artists, who from every field bring such joy, such light, such introspection, such vibrancy to our communities – $17,300,” she stated. “We are in a housing crisis; we all know this. Sometimes I think that we instinctively jump to an idea of who we are building affordable housing for when we talk about the need for social and affordable housing in our communities. That idea tends to be pretty narrow, as the housing crisis is very visible on our streets, without a doubt. But the truth is, there are so many people struggling.”

In a city’s that fortunate to be chock-full of artists, Henderson said she’s grateful that organizations like PAL, the province and Vintop came together to develop a creative and exciting housing project.

“I'm so proud of New Westminster's relentless and consistently compassionate approach to the housing crisis, and proud to be able to say that as a city we have a 100 per cent approval rate for affordable housing projects,” she said. “We are willing to think outside the box, we are willing to partner, and we are willing to do the work. And where there is that will, there's a way. And this is the perfect demonstration of that way – of creativity, of vision, of the power of partnerships. Let's do more of this, shall we?”