Construction on a new affordable housing project for seniors got underway in downtown Abbotsford on Friday.
Municipal and provincial politicians and community partners turned out to break ground for a pair of two-storey rental buildings at 33585 and 33580 Braun Avenue just off McCallum Road expected to be finished in spring 2014.
The development project includes 64 micro-suites that will be operated by Lynnhaven Society, a non-profit organization that has been providing affordable rental housing to seniors in need in Abbotsford since 1957.
The new project will replace Lynnhaven's aging 40-unit complex on Lynn Avenue.
The property for the new development on Braun Avenue was originally owned by Algra Brothers Developments Ltd., which exchanged ownership of that site for the society's Lynn Avenue site.
Mike de Jong, minister of finance and MLA for Abbotsford West, said the province valued partnerships with the city and community organizations such as Lynnhaven Society to meet its commitment to create more affordable housing options for seniors.
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman said the project was an "innovative" way for all the partners involved to meet the need for affordable housing.
The new buildings are walking distance to shopping, Mill Lake and the new civic library, Banman said.
The project will contribute to and reap the benefits of the revitalization of the downtown core and McCallum corridor, he added.
Leona Watts, secretary manager of Lynnhaven Society, said the Algra Brothers' participation was invaluable to the project, and the organization can now replace its units on Lynn Avenue and create more housing for seniors with less operating costs.
The original housing, a group of small duplexes and rowhouses built by the Abbotsford Legion more than 50 years ago, is outdated and too expensive to repair, she said.
To be livable the units needed new windows, roofing and plumbing and electrical upgrades.
Critics of the project argued the micro-suites, or 350-square-foot studio apartments, were too small and the residents would lose the green space around their units.
Every apartment in the Braun Avenue project will have its own balcony and the development includes raised gardening beds for residents who want to do outdoor work and two gazebos where residents can sit outside, said Watts.
Although the suites are smaller, they are designed with built-in furnishings and smaller appliances to create more space.
"The suites have a European design . . . they are built and adapted to the space so they 'live bigger,' " said Watts.
The society thought the sacrifices were worth making in able to continue to provide seniors with housing, she added.
"We're talking about affordable housing, so where do you compromise?" asked Watts.
"If we have bigger places, we house less people and we have a bigger wait list. With the new buildings, we have 24 more seniors than what we can house now."
Around 80 per cent of the Lynnhaven's current residents plan to make the move to the new development, she said.
To ensure the development went forward the city provided $320,000 in funds from its affordable housing fund and allowed the reductions in the building's suite size and parking space requirements.
Lynnhaven Society provided land valued at over $2.7 million, the federal government provided a total of $70,000 in funding and the provincial government provided $47,000 and arranged for approximately $4 million in long-term financing.