The path ahead is clear for UNITI’s Harmony project in South Surrey, said executive director Doug Tennant.
Tennant told Peace Arch News that a new cost-analysis of the project is the next step, following a public hearing at Surrey council last week, after which third readings of associated bylaw amendments were passed unanimously.
All that remains, from the city standpoint, is final adoption of the bylaws, which will trigger a development variance permit for reduced setbacks between the new building and existing buildings at the Peninsula Estates property at 2007 to 2075 151A St. and 15077 to 15147 20 Ave.
Rising construction costs will have had an impact on plans for Harmony, which may mean a new capital fundraising campaign in the new year, Tennant said.
“But as I said when it was rejected the first time around, Harmony will be built.”
The proposed six-storey building will provide up to 91 affordable housing units and supportive rental units for a blend of limited-income, senior, and developmentally-disabled residents, much like UNITI’s earlier South Surrey housing project, Chorus.
Originally brought before Surrey council in 2021, Harmony was rejected by Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition majority, but after impassioned campaigning by UNITI and community supporters, was later brought back to the table by McCallum in the run-up to the Oct. 15 civic election.
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Ironically, Tennant said, supporters of the long-awaited project who turned out for the Nov. 28 public hearing had to wait through much of a marathon seven-hour-plus meeting before the votes were taken just after 1:40 a.m.
“After that I slept well for the first time in a year and a half,” Tennant said.
Among those present to support the project were housing activist and disabled advocate Lauren Simpson, profiled in the recent documentary Lauren’s Story, who has long pinned hopes on becoming a resident of Harmony, as well as Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman, Lillian Chow, CEO of Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society and Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford, who spoke as a private Surrey citizen.
“As with the July 26, 2021, public hearing, the vast majority of people were in support,” said Tennant.
A total of 19 people spoke in support of the project, he said, as opposed to some seven who spoke against it. A further 12 people were prepared to speak in support of it, he added, but agreed to waive their chance to comment, due to the length of the meeting and because, by then, overall support from the public was clear.
Another 60 had signed up as being in support, but did not want to speak, Tennant said, while in written correspondence, 178 people supported the project against 20 opposed and two who voiced concerns.
“We could not have done this without the community,” Tennant said.
“The only people against it were a tiny minority of neighbours, and some decision makers who didn’t understand the project.”
Tennant said that he appreciates the support of current Mayor Brenda Locke, who had always been a very vocal proponent of Harmony, and made it one of the planks of her platform when running for office.
But he said he also appreciated that Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra had changed their position on the project.
“That the votes were unanimous was very important for us,” Tennant said. “It meant that council listened and that council understands that we’re in a housing crisis.
“I believe that other organizations, including churches, that may have their own property and plans for affordable housing, will see this as a beacon of hope.”
While some speakers at the public hearing urged council to take a closer look at the Harmony proposal because of ways in which it – and other potential development at the site – could change the character of their particular two-storey neighbourhood, others spoke passionately about the need for such housing throughout Surrey.
Roxanne Pope – who, along with her mother, now a Chorus resident, had been a long-time renter until finally managing to purchase her own home this year – said it would help establish much-needed stability for those who are in constant fear of change due to property speculation.
“You are at the will of whoever owns the property,” she said.
“(Harmony) is going to give so many residents in our community stability, predictability, quality of life as well as inclusion, belonging and being a part of the community.
“I understand that, for some people, this changes the community and the neighbourhood – but all of Surrey is undergoing change right now. That is the reality.”
Natalie Hartman, a Surrey School District high school teacher who works with students with mild intellectual disabilities, said such housing projects address uncertainty that her students and their parents are feeling about their future independence after post-secondary education.
“We, as a community, need Harmony – not just for the people who will reside in the building, but because of the greater impact it has on society,” she said.
“Harmony tells the world that we care about people from all walks of life, and that we want them to have the same opportunities to live their lives in the community they belong to … we are all impacted by the hope that Harmony can bring.”