Rendering of the Harmony apartment proposed for the 15100-block of 20 Avenue. Groundbreaking is now anticipated for September. (Contributed graphic)

Rendering of the Harmony apartment proposed for the 15100-block of 20 Avenue. Groundbreaking is now anticipated for September. (Contributed graphic)

Construction costs, red tape delay South Surrey inclusive-housing project

Harmony, slated for the 15100-block of 20 Avenue, hoped to break ground in September

The challenges of building a non-profit housing project combined with increased construction costs mean groundbreaking on a 91-unit affordable and inclusive development in South Surrey won’t be happening this spring as hoped.

UNITI chief executive officer Doug Tennant confirmed this week that the organization – a partnership of Semiahmoo House Society, The Semiahmoo Foundation and Peninsula Estates Housing Society – is now looking to September as a “shovel in the ground date” for the Harmony project.

“It’s been a bit longer than we had hoped to work our way through the different requirements from the City, Province and CMHC,” Tennant said by email, noting the process is both more difficult and more costly for a non-profit project than it is for a private one.

“Construction costs are also up and we are figuring out how to address the equity gap that we now need to bridge (which we will do).”

That gap, Tennant said Thursday (March 11), is around $4 million – and “a big hurdle” for a non-profit.

Harmony is proposed for 5.5 acres in the 15100-block of 20 Avenue. Owned by Peninsula Estates Housing Society, the site is currently home to 51 townhomes and an 18-unit apartment building which were built in 1983. Seventeen of the townhomes are slated to be demolished to make way for the new building, with affected tenants of those units to be given first crack at a unit in Harmony.

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Tennant expects Surrey council to consider the development application in June or July.

On Monday (March 8), council approved execution of a partnering agreement and land exchange to deal with realignment of the Semiahmoo Trail, which currently runs through the townhouse complex, offset from the trail entrance at the north end of 151A Street.

Just over 730 square metres of society-owned property at 15077 20 Ave. is to be dedicated for its realignment, a city report notes.

Entering into a partnering agreement, the report adds, is an effort to “facilitate the project, minimize the financial impacts associated with the relocation of Semiahmoo Trail, and support the delivery of affordable rental housing in Surrey.”

Tennant said the City of Surrey has been “really good” to work with, however, more support for non-profits that embark on such projects is still needed.

“The very nature of non-profit housing, it’s more difficult… because there’s a lot more red tape involved,” he said, citing things like heritage and housing agreements that have to be negotiated.

As well, “if this apartment was being built in Vancouver, New Westminster or Richmond, we would be receiving an additional $1 million or more in municipal support, either through grants or reduced development cost charges, or waiving of those development cost charges.”

Such support could help lower rents and enable more “heart-of-the-city” workers – such as first responders – who currently commute from as far as Chilliwack, to actually live in the city that they work in, resulting in benefits such as increased local spending and better quality of life, Tennant said.

“It’s such a win-win, and I don’t think that’s being valued now as much as it should be, or as much as it’s valued in other municipalities.”

Tennant said so far, 200 people have expressed interest in Harmony, highlighting the “desperate need” for the housing.

The development application proposes that the city and society enter into a 30-year agreement to secure 75 per cent of the units within the new building as affordable rental housing and up to 25 per cent as supportive rental units for people with disabilities.

It will be the second development of its kind in South Surrey. The first, Chorus – also a UNITI project – opened in the 2300-block of 153 Street in November 2016.
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