Their vision? Modern, high-quality homes for working folks in Port Alberni.
That’s the story behind the Alberni Low Energy Housing Society. The Society incorporated in 2010 with no funding and no experience raising money. But they had an idea. And in the words of founder Mike Ruttan, the team was made up of “doers.”
Now the Society has two buildings with more than 50 rental units and about $20 million in property and funding.
But what drove their success? A commitment to building a community as much as building homes.
According to Ruttan, the team asked themselves: “How do we create this community in a building that we’re really proud of, but more importantly that the residents really are?”
Two different projects, one goal
The Society has accomplished a lot since getting its first big BC Housing grant in 2016. They were awarded $595,000 to help buy and retrofit the eleven-unit Highview Apartments.
The success of the Highview project was super encouraging. So the Society found a new challenge: their very own building, built from the ground up.
Their brand new Maitland Street Village is a 46-unit community with a mix of apartment sizes to fit different families.
With the Maitland finished, they’re turning their focus back to the Highview. It’s about to get a serious upgrade.
They’re going to retrofit the building to meet modern efficiency standards. “The retrofit budget for the Highview apartments is $2.3 million,” Ruttan said.
That’s a hefty price tag. But Ruttan says the team is still keen. “It’s worth it in the end because it’s good for society and good for the people living there.”
Affordable for working folks
Affordable rentals are a real success. The units have different prices to keep things affordable and still pay for the buildings.
A three-bedroom unit would go to a family for $660 at a deep subsidy, $920 for rent geared to income, and $1500 for market rates.
And because the Maitland uses so little energy, hydro bills for two months are under $50. Heat pumps keep the place warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Added bonus—they keep apartments cooler during events like the heat dome.
Breaking a new trail
It can be hard to build projects that don’t fit the standard pattern. But Ruttan says the team was persistent. “I just don’t shut up,” Ruttan laughed.
“You create the vision because it’s the right vision, and you can’t lose sight of it.”
The team even won the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board’s 2022 Award of Excellence for Affordable Housing.
Ruttan and the team know that two buildings won’t solve the whole housing crisis. But they also know it takes people power to make things better.
“People have to make it happen on the ground,” Ruttan said.
Will the Highview and Maitland spark a new trend of energy-efficient and affordable housing on VanIsle?