No choice but to sell houses, says non-profit Fraser Native Housing Society

MQHS hopes to use revenue from house sales to build new multi-unit project

Drawing of proposed Mamele’awt Qweesome Housing Society project.

Drawing of proposed Mamele’awt Qweesome Housing Society project.

The CEO of a non-profit native housing society that serves the entire Fraser Valley says federal funding cuts are forcing them to sell off all of their rural housing as subsidies expire.

“With great regret, MQHS has had no choice but to sell off some older homes in response to the federal government cutting funding through operating agreements,” said Margaret Pfoh, CEO of the Mamele’Awt Qweesome Housing Society (MQHS) that owns and manages 122 rental units for low and moderate-income First Nations people in Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Rosedale, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs, and Hope.

In an emailed response to an Abbotsford News query, Pfoh said as the federal housing subsidy agreements expire, the houses will be sold and the money will be used by the society to fund construction of newer housing.

“We are looking to reinvest capital from the sale of the houses to drastically increase our affordable rental stock and become more self-sufficient to better serve our low- to moderate-income tenants in the long run,” Pfoh said in an emailed statement to The News.

In May, The News reported that an MQHS tenant in Yarrow had been displaced by the sale of a subsidized three-bedroom rancher that cost $450 a month to rent, forcing them to move into a non-subsidized two-bedroom townhouse that cost $650 a month.

At the time, the housing society only confirmed it was selling three properties it owned in Yarrow, Chilliwack, and Mission.

Pfoh would not say how many houses in total will eventually end up on the block, but the society website indicates it acquired 25 houses in 2013.

“Only the units in expiration of operating agreements (are being sold right now),” Pfoh said.

“As the others come off agreement, they, too, will be sold. “

Pfoh said even if the federal subsidy program had continued, the age of the houses would have been a problem, because most would require renovation.

“We have made the difficult decision to invest into our clients’ future by ensuring more quality, affordable units are generated in place of unsustainable aging stock,” Pfoh said.

MQHS hopes to use the funds from the house sales to help build an aboriginal-themed mixed-use, mixed-income development.

The society website describes the proposed multi-unit development as an “urban village” that would “service – predominantly though not exclusively – aboriginal peoples and would provide full-spectrum affordability.”

MQHS is looking at locations in Abbotsford, Langley, Mission, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, and Coquitlam.

The organization pitched the concept to the City of Abbotsford at a meeting of the Homelessness Action Advisory Committee on Feb. 18. Minutes of the meeting show Pfoh told the committee the society is seeking municipal support that could include a break on development fees, a donation of land or some form of financial support.

The MQHS houses were part of urban and rural native subsidized housing programs created by the Central Mortgage and Housing (CMHC) agency in the 1980s to provide inexpensive, off-reserve housing to eligible First Nations people.

By the early 1990s CMHC stopped funding new subsidized housing projects, but agreed to continue paying subsidies until mortgages were paid off.

In 2007, CMHC transferred the native housing program to the provinces.

The province then transferred the houses to aboriginal housing providers like MHQS.

The federal subsidies only covered the mortgages, and they end once the mortgages are paid off.

The annual “State of Homelessness in Canada” report by the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, found that federal investment in affordable housing has been cut nearly in half over the last 25 years.

In its 2016 budget, the new Liberal government promised to spend $732 million over two years on housing in First Nations, Inuit and northern communities, almost all of it going for on-reserve housing.