A view of the newly constructed Maitland Street Village on a sunny day. The leaves aren't quite out yet.

Photo Credit: Mike Ruttan

Building a Housing Community Locals Are Proud Of

Teamwork makes the dream work

The housing crisis is Canada-wide, but the solutions can be local

There’s no doubt: the cost of housing in WestIsle is going up. But this isn’t exactly a new problem. And some dedicated local people have been working on a solution.

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.”

The Maitland Street Village is brand new. It opened around Christmas of 2021. But it’s already growing its own community.
Photo credit: Mike Ruttan

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.

A picture of the covered walkway alongside the Maitland.
The Maitland‘s covered walkways protect folks from rainy weather.
Photo credit: Mike Ruttan

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.

A view of the Maitland with an electric vehicle charging station.
The Maitland even comes with electric vehicle charging stations.
Photo credit: Mike Ruttan

Breaking a new trail

Mike Ruttan accepts the 2022 Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Award of Excellence for Affordable Housing.
Former Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan accepts the VIREB award for affordable housing. Photo supplied.

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?