Government Commitments


Indigenous led-development: How 670 affordable Vancouver rental homes serve unique community needs

June 26, 2024

For Brenda Knights, CEO of BC Indigenous Housing Society, the recent announcement from the City of Vancouver about a land transfer agreement at 990 Beatty Street was a long time coming.

“It was really hard to keep to ourselves because we’ve known about it for a while,” she now enthusiastically shares with us.

The agreement will facilitate the creation of over 670 affordable rental homes across three sites.

Project is about housing ‘in proximity to culture and community services access’

Knights is a member of Kwantlen First Nation. The ancestors of its members were guided by their seven traditional laws: health, happiness, generations, generosity, humbleness, forgiveness and understanding.

In a similar fashion, Knights believes in four areas which Indigenous people need support for healthy communities. “There needs to be good governance, access to community services, access to culture and some form of an economy,” she says.

To Knights, the delivery of affordable rental homes through this new project goes beyond just housing, as it touches on some of these areas: “The housing announcement is much more than just providing housing for Indigenous people,” she explains. “It’s having housing in proximity to access to culture, having housing in proximity to access to community services.”

Keeping families together: A key priority

Kelly Lin, partner at Terra Social Purpose Real Estate, has also been involved in this project through work with Brightside Community Homes Foundation. While she has worked in the real estate development sector for almost two decades, she’s the first to acknowledge that she still has a lot to learn. Lin firmly believes that all Indigenous projects should have a subject matter expert involved. 

“As a non-Indigenous person, I don’t know what’s best for the community,” she explains.

The 990 Beatty Street project will also bring a new child-care facility and firehall to the community. Keeping families together was a key priority for Knights in helping develop the residential unit mix.

“The first thing we want to try is to get in as many larger units because we look at our waitlist and we’re needing more family units. Unfortunately, the economics of the site, sometimes with land costs, don’t always work out that way,” Knights explains.

Creating spaces to share culture, gather, set up for success

Knights says the next way to keep families together is to work with them on applications. “So, we could have an elderly couple staying in a one-bedroom and then have a family in a two- or three-bedroom. They’re in the same building, at least, so that they can support one another.”

Childcare programs such as Head Start also serve as safe spaces; community hubs for Elders to pass on culture and stories to the next generation. The benefits can carry over well beyond the sandbox, in Knights’ opinion. This is reinforced by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s 2022 research that shows highly positive feedback and evaluation findings from participants in the Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities Program.

“We’ve seen success in my own community, where we have more people going into post-secondary than we’ve ever seen, so we want to bring some of those things to the urban environment for our tenants, and help them be set up for success. I think it starts with their youth having a safe place where they can come and gather, where Elders can come and they can share their culture.”

The Indigenous perspective in their own communities ‘hasn’t always taken first precedence’

These differences in culture are apparent even at the earliest stages of the development process itself, according to Lin’s years of experience as a development manager. When working on projects that involve Indigenous communities, she’s found that their perspective hasn’t always taken first precedence.

“How we typically work with development is thinking through a non-Indigenous lens,” says Lin, “But Indigenous people have very different processes; there are multiple levels of detail. We need to build the capacity for Indigenous people, build their confidence and capacity in the development industry.”

How the industry can do better and truly help

Education is the first path she recommends for anyone in the real estate development sector looking to work more closely with Indigenous communities.

“I get more and more people chatting with me about the question, “How can I really help?” … The very first thing one can do is try to educate yourself and open your mind,” Lin advises.

Indigenous-led developments seem poised to continue making a major impact in shaping the future of Metro Vancouver. But Knights knows there’s still a long way to go.

“My Nation name, Kwantlen, translates to “Tireless Runner,” says Knights. “I’ve been taught intergenerationally that when there’s a job to do, the job’s never done. So we’re just going to continue to try and get as much housing until we no longer have waitlists.”

Jamie Burke

Jamie (she/her) is a Writer with Real Estate Magazine, as well as Partner of a marketing agency, Burke By Burke, with her husband Eddie. She is an avid reader, self-proclaimed foodie, urban land economics enthusiast, Barry’s Tea drinker and part-time yogi. She lives, works and plays in Port Moody, BC, on the ancestral and unceded homelands of the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie), qʼʷa:n̓ ƛʼən̓ (Kwantlen), qiqéyt (Qayqayt), and Stó:lō (Sto:lo) Peoples