Shuswap council has made significant progress in a key mandate goal declared when Chief Barb Cote first took office seven years ago. The goal was to add affordable on-reserve housing. Since, 17 new homes have been added, accommodating 30 Shuswap members that once lived off-reserve. The estimated on-reserve population is now 125.
“Before Chief Cote took office, no new homes had been added on the reserve in thirty years,” said Dolores Nicholas, Housing & Social Development for the Shuswap Band. “We’ve surpassed our five-year plan.” The band has overseen considerable renovation work as well. “We’ve renovated six homes totally and we’ve purchased new electric and wood-burning furnaces for fifteen of the new homes,” Nicholas said, who’s been in her role with the band for the past six years. Before, she worked for seven years in housing for the Akisqnuk First Nation and before that, private industry property management.
To date, financing for the housing has come from organizations like Indigenous Services Canada, the Canadian Home Mortgage Corporation (Rapid Housing Initiative), and the Columbia Basin Trust. “When we consider adding more housing, it always depends on what funding opportunities there are,” Nicholas said. “The Shuswap Band would like to continue adding housing and we’ve built a great track record of building on time and budget.”
Contingent on receiving program funding was having what’s known as shovel-ready land. “ We needed to show the lots we planned for new housing had water, roads, and utilities. On serviceable land, we determined we had room for 15-20 new homes.” The homes are modest, modulars built by Cranbrook-based Eagle Homes. “They’re energy-efficient and they’re comfortable to live in,” Nicholas said. “And we have plans to add solar power to help offset the rising cost of hydropower.”
Shuswap Band member Mike Stevens, 50, is proud and happy with his new home. Stevens, who works in maintenance for the band, moved into his one-bedroom unit in March after struggling to continue paying rent for his comparably smaller-sized rental in Radium Hot Springs. “It’s tiring when your cheques go to rent and then you have a car breakdown. Since I moved in, I’ve been able to get out of financial debt.” Stevens said. “I’m glad to be a part of the ongoing change at the Shuswap Band.”
James Rose, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer