The Tamitik Status of Women Association (TSW) was granted $500,000 by the Kitimat Affordable & Accessible Housing Fund (AHF) to support construction of second stage and affordable rental housing at 461 Quatsino Boulevard, in Kitimat’s Strawberry Meadows.
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While the plans have been in place for the housing for the last few years, the project has pivoted a bit to now incorporate a 24-hour childcare centre on-site, after the provincial government allocated funding to increase daycare spaces in B.C. in mid-2019.
“This announcement was unexpected (to us) and came after the rezoning for our project, but TSW has always recognized childcare as the main [hindrance] to women accessing the workforce – particularly lucrative positions which often involve [shift-work] or unconventional hours,” Michelle Martins, Director of Services at TSW, wrote in an email.
Martins said that TSW consulted with numerous stakeholders in the community, such as Rio Tinto, LNG Canada, the RCMP, and Northern Health. These various employers acknowledged that while they wanted to increase the number of women in each of their work forces, adequate childcare was often stopping women from entering the workforce entirely or stopping existing employees from being able to accept permanent or full-time positions or promotions that required different hours and responsibilities.
“[The childcare space] was always on our mind,” Martins said, it’s just that the with the original plan, they didn’t have the space for it with the Free Store and Furniture Exchange, as well.
However, TSW was able to partner with KUTE last year for the store and the exchange, as both had the unintended extra of being a good way to promote sustainability through reusing furniture and clothing. With KUTE taking over those projects, this freed up space for a childcare centre.
The housing project will include three parts, the first being a larger transition house. Currently, they have eight funded beds, and Martins said the new house will have a minimum of 12 beds, but they’re hoping for 14 or 16.
The second part will be 10 second stage units. They currently have six operating out of Douglas House, which will be returned to B.C. Housing once the 10 new ones are finished. Because second stage housing is recognized as a program, it means it’s similar to living in a rental house or apartment, but TSW is able to put extra measures in place that a regular landlord couldn’t, such as guests limits or limits on alcohol usage on the premises.
“The main objective of second stage housing…is to provide more independent living for women who maybe came in to escape an abusive situation or needed help,” Martins said. Once they’ve been able to recover at the transition house, they can be moved to this housing to start to live more independently again, and the new buildings will also have more space to better accommodate women with children.
With the second stage housing, as well, women are also able to receive personalized services for each of their individual needs, such as outreach worker, councillors, mental health workers.
Lastly, there will be 20 affordable housing units, with different sizes to accommodate specifically women with children. If the woman has long-term male partner, however, he can live in those units with the woman (and children) once he’s been screened and deemed safe.
“Part of having a healthy life for women also includes having healthy men in their lives,” Martins said, adding that the TSW is a fairly feminine environment, meaning young boys often don’t have many healthy male adult relationships or role models to look to.
“They need to be able to identify with their role models to become healthy males when they grow up,” Martins said.
Martins added that the amount of space for all these different buildings was one of the main draws for the TSW to the lot on Quatsino Blvd. However, a lot of the criticism that was brought up as this project idea was in the works came from residents of the area, asking why they didn’t put the new housing downtown instead?
“We had to do our due-diligence, but what was great about Quatsino was that it was in a residential area, for one,” Martins said. “We believe every parent has the right to raise their child in a residential area…and to integrate into a neighbourhood instead of living amongst concrete.”
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The land was also owned by the municipality and had already been serviced, which meant there was a huge additional cost saved by not having to put in the sewage system, wiring, etc.
“It makes it easier to have the construction budget approved and it also makes the timeline shorter to finish,” Martins said.
Now, with the funding from the District, TSW is just waiting for the childcare funds to be approved to decide upon a date to start construction.
“We’re just doing the finishing touches of redesign to incorporate the childcare centre,” Martins said, “because there are specific requirements for the space; the integrity of the building, for example.”
Martins said there are also added requirements, given that the centre will include overnight care, such as extra rooms, safety measures, and staffing. Once the funding is approved, Martins said they will begin formalizing the logistics behind the project.
Martins said they’re excited for the funding to come through so they can get to work on construction.
“Strawberry Meadows is fairly affluent neighbourhood,” Martins said. “[It’s] affordable, it’s safe, it’s beautiful, and [our] clients get to see great examples of people who have been able to achieve their goals, and hopefully be inspired and motivated from that.”