Harvey Mitchler

Langley church opts to build affordable housing over selling extra land

A Willoughby church will offer housing for seniors and low- to moderate-income families.

Elmer Pohl turns 84 next month but he still recalls how he and other congregation members cleared a five-acre parcel in Willoughby.

“We cut the trees with chainsaws, a whole bunch of us,” Pohl said.

Half the site is devoted to the Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, which opened in the early 1980s on 72nd Avenue by 201st Street.

Within a couple of years, the vacant half will be 82 units of apartments and townhouses.

Ever since the church opened, the congregation has held discussions on what to do with the vacant land beside the church.

Pastor Kristen Steele said the congregation opted not to simply sell to a developer but to be involved in every aspect of creating social housing.

“The congregation really sees itself as wanting to be good stewards,” she said. “We want to be able to make a difference in the community.”

The church teamed up with Catalyst Community Developments Society, a Vancouver-based social housing non-profit that has projects in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

They along with the provincial government announced the 82-unit project Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re in the business plan phase,” said Steele. “We’ve done a feasibility study.”

Steele noted that single parent families and seniors are the groups in society that spend the highest proportion of their income on housing. The church wanted to create a project that would create a sense of community for the residents.

Catalyst president Rob Brown explained that there will be an apartment building along 72nd Avenue mainly for seniors with larger family apartments and townhouses, so the development is intergenerational. There will be some communal facilities and green space.

The project must still be approved by the Township and would occupy about 2.5 acres of the five-acre church property. Brown expects construction to start in 2018 with completion about 18 months later.

He added the cost will be about $15 million. Catalyst will oversee its operation on behalf of the church.

“Sounds good,” was the reaction of Pohl to the housing project.

He joined the church in 1976, when he moved from North Vancouver to Langley.

He gets to watch the housing come to fruition, living only two blocks away.

But when he and others cleared the land, he was farming in Murrayville. Pohl said the land around the church was all acreages. Now it’s all large homes built within the last decade.

Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman, who is deputy premier and minister of housing, the province will be providing $4 million to the project.

He joked that when he heard that the church and Catalyst were teaming up on a social housing project, he expected to hear back from then in a couple years with paperwork in hand. Instead they were back within months, testament to the church’s desire to help others.

Coleman said the church project is part of the 3,000 units of social housing that will be announced by the end of March.

The province will spend $575 million in 2016/17 for the construction or renovation of 4,900 units of affordable housing in B.C.

Last year the province spent $8.8 million to provide subsidized housing and rent supplements to more than 2,100 households in Langley, including more than 550 seniors households and 180 families.

PHOTO: Langley MLA Mary Polak, Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman and Rob Brown, president of Catalyst Community Developments Society, announced an 82-unit development in Willoughby. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)