Kelly Contreras Gomez started to cry when she found out she and her family of six could move into a unit in the Habitat @ 81st building in Surrey.
Kelly and her husband have four children, three boys, and one girl, ranging in age from two to eight years old. Finding an affordable place that could fit her family was a challenge.
She was thrilled when she heard the news that her family would finally have a place to call home. “It was a dream for us to have a place to live in,” Kelly said.
The new six-story building on the corner of King George Boulevard and 81 Avenue houses 100 affordable rental units for people with low to moderate incomes. It is operated by Habitat Housing Society, a sister society to Options Community Services.
The first two floors of the building will be open to various services and programs provided by Options Community Services, said Christine Mohr, CEO of Options Community Services Society.
“Our vision for Habitat @ 81st is to provide quality, affordable, accessible, safe, and uplifting homes,” Mohr said. “So that people have a strong foundation here for years to come, that they can proudly call their home.”
The province announced the official opening at a press conference Tuesday (Jan. 16) at Habitat @ 81st. However, residents started moving into the building in December 2023.
“Rents range from $375 for a studio to $1,950 for a three-bedroom home and are a mix of rent geared to 30% of a resident’s income, market rates and deep-subsidy rates,” reads a media release from BC Housing Tuesday.
Kelly can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that her family now has a place to call home.
But it has been a long journey for the 29-year-old and her family to get to where they are today.
Kelly left her home country of El Salvador when she was 15 years old and after some time in the United States, she came to Canada with her husband and children in August 2017.
She lived in Quebec for five years before moving out west to Surrey.
A family member in the area offered her family a place to stay for two weeks. She recalled the relative reassuring her that she and her husband would find a place to live and work within two weeks.
“Those two weeks turned into a very long nightmare of five months. Every single door I knocked rejected me,” Kelly said.
She was told that her family was too big and would not fit in a two-bedroom basement suite. She started looking at 3-bedroom homes, which were way out of their price range.
She applied to a BC Housing program but was told the wait time would be long.
“While I was still searching the two week period that my family had given me ended and they asked me to leave,” Kelly said.
“When I heard that my kids would have to go through the same homeless experience I had to go through in my childhood, I felt I was total failure as a mother,” Kelly recalled.
Her family offered them a room to sleep in for $500, provided that they left the house early each day and only returned in the evening to sleep. They also had no access to the kitchen or laundry.
Kelly and her family often spent the day in parks, McDonald’s playgrounds, or indoors in a mall during winter.
She could not register her school-age kids in school because they did not have a permanent address.
A community support worker encouraged her to apply for Habitat @ 81st. “The wait time is long for my situation but I still need to take any possible chance I have,” she said.
Her application was accepted. Kelly and her family moved into a 3-bedroom apartment on December 1.
“I am the happiest mother on Earth,” Kelly said. “I cannot express in words what it means to me, as a mother, to be able to provide a safe place to live for my children.”
Since moving in, she has enrolled her school-age children in a local elementary school only minutes from their new home. Kelly is looking at going back to school to study either information technology (IT) or finance. Her husband hopes to enroll in some English classes and get further training.
The project was done in partnership with the federal and provincial government, the City of Surrey, Metro Vancouver and the Habitat Housing Society.
The provincial government contributed $21.2 million through BC Housing. Habitat Housing Society provided the land valued at around $2.5 million and equity of $5.5 million. The City of Surrey waved over $250,000 in development fees, and Metro Vancouver waved $353,000. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) contributed $5.9 million through the federal affordable housing fund.
“Creating homes to address the housing crisis is a priority and I’m thrilled to see 100 new purpose-built rental homes being added to Surrey’s housing stock that will help residents thrive by creating safe, stable and affordable housing,” said Surrey mayor Brenda Locke.