Why New West should say “Yes” to the Aboriginal Land Trust Sixth Street Housing Project

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The Aboriginal Land Trust Sixth Street Housing Project is an exciting development proposed for 823-841 Sixth Street in New Westminster. The building will include 96 affordable rental units composed of one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom apartments for the Indigenous and Swahili communities in the area.

For the development of this project to go ahead, the proposed site will need to be rezoned and the Land Designation Use Map in the Official Community Plan will need to be amended in order to accommodate the building. Given the great benefit that this project would represent for groups experiencing high rates of housing insecurity and for the community as a whole, this project should be supported and approved by the city.

One of the central challenges facing New Westminster and the surrounding region is how to grow in a way that respects justice and the right to housing. To respect these principles, New Westminster must ensure that population growth and densification do not lead to the displacement of people who are the most at risk of experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness in our community.

To avoid this displacement, affordable housing needs to grow as a share of the total housing supply in all neighbourhoods of our city. Housing insecurity isn’t something that is the responsibility of some neighbourhoods but not of others. Communities flourish when we all care for each other, and this includes ensuring that everyone is able to meet their basic needs, including having access to secure housing. As part of showing that care for one another, we should all seek to support and encourage the development of affordable housing in every neighbourhood in New Westminster.

This much-need housing project not only helps to address the problem of housing insecurity, but it also represents a concrete step toward realizing the important goal of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada calls on all levels of government, including municipalities, to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a framework for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples (Call to Action 43). This declaration holds that governments should take effective and even special measures to advance the economic and social conditions of Indigenous peoples, including in the area of housing (Article 21). The approval of developments such as this housing project would help to demonstrate a substantive commitment in New Westminster to the principles of reconciliation.

Given that this housing project helps to address the issues of affordable housing and reconciliation in New Westminster, it is strongly supported by key policy priorities in the city’s core planning documents, such as the Official Community Plan and the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan. These documents quite clearly emphasize the importance of taking real and meaningful action in the areas of affordable housing and reconciliation as among the city’s top priorities. A commitment to the principles of these documents is a commitment to these types of projects.

There are, however, some residents who have organized in opposition to this project and have compiled a petition against the project with over 1200 signatures, which has been submitted to council. While we respect the right of our neighbours to participate in municipal political processes and have no desire to antagonize them, we believe that this petition and the campaign against the project are misguided and harmful. We implore our fellow community members who may have signed this petition to reconsider their opposition and to join us in support of this project.

It is important to note that it does not display a NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) disposition to simply voice concerns about issues such as parking, traffic, and shadows; indeed, local residents should have their concerns respectfully heard and addressed where possible. It does, however, reflect such a disposition to persist in those concerns once they have been addressed (and shown to be manageable) or where those concerns are taken to have greater precedence than the needs of those facing housing insecurity.

In the midst of fear and isolation from one another, it is all too easy to turn inward, focus on our own set of concerns, and fight to preserve the status quo around us. But that status quo is one in which working poverty is on the rise in our communities, where many individuals and families cannot find a secure place to live, and where Indigenous and Black peoples suffer disproportionately higher rates of homelessness than the general population in the region.

Instead of being overly consumed by worries about things like parking, traffic, and shadows, let us make space in our imagination for things like the relief of residents in having a secure home in this development, the laughter of children playing outside, and the joy of breaking bread together and enriching each other’s lives in community-oriented spaces. May our imagination of what is possible in our communities not be shaped by fear and fragmentation but rather by hope and a generosity of spirit that does not rest until all around us have a safe place to call home.

The Aboriginal Land Trust Sixth Street Housing Project is a great idea in a great location: it is close to schools; it is close to parks and playgrounds; it is a pedestrian-friendly area; it is well served by public transit; it is on a major street, which is higher density to the north and south; and it is close to many amenities. We should all say “yes” to this development!

We encourage you to support this project by writing a letter to city council, which is one of the most effective ways to show your support. Letters to council should be sent to the following e-mail address: clerks@newwestcity.ca

For a fuller and detailed defense of this project, please read this document prepared by Yes in New West.