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City agrees to help find location for newcomer affordable housing

Grace Ethiopian Evangelical Church and the city to find space for 50 affordable housing units, community space and childcare facility

On Monday, May 13, Burnaby City Council voted to approve a motion to direct Burnaby city staff to work with the nonprofit affiliated with Grace Ethiopian Evangelical Church to find a location in Burnaby large enough to accommodate 50 affordable housing units, a community space, and a childcare facility. 

The church, established in Burnaby in the 1990s, aims to support newcomers from Ethiopia and Eritrea. According to Pastor Mesfin Mulugeta, the church’s community outreach organization helps newcomers in Burnaby “Overcome barriers of systemic racism, inequality, exclusion from opportunities, affordable housing, education, employment, and healthcare.” 

Mulugeta presented the project to Burnaby’s Planning and Development Committee (PDC) at its April 8, 2024 meeting. Mulugeta outlined the need for affordable housing for Black Canadians, who have a disproportionate need for it in the city. 

“There is a particular need for Black Canadians. Affordable housing is the greatest need of our community, and unaffordability is forcing many of our young people to consider moving out of our beautiful province,” he said. “The former minister of housing and diversity, Ahmed Hussein, said this, ‘In Canada, diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice.’” 

Mulugeta also shared some statistics that nearly a quarter of Black Canadians are in core housing needs, with 80% of them spending more than 30% of their income on housing. 

The project aims to provide 50 units of affordable housing to new Canadians in Burnaby, as well as a community space and childcare facilities. According to Mulugeta, the proposed development would require at least one acre of land to accommodate the buildings and services. He added that the nonprofit has been fundraising, has collected about half a million dollars, and is seeking support from all levels of government. Their request from the PDC and council is to help expedite the acquisition of land for the project. 

Rendering of the proposed project. Photo: City of Burnaby

During the April 8 meeting, Coun. Alison Gu asked Mulugeta if the housing units would be available only to people with specific religious affiliations and if there would be restrictions on people living there regarding their religious beliefs. 

“No, there would not be any restriction in regards to religion,” Mulugeta replied. He added that people in the community will be encouraged to apply, and there will be a selection process for applicants. The organization intends to ensure a fair application process. 

Mayor Mike Hurley said he would forward the request to staff to find a suitable piece of land or location for the project.  

“Land is getting more and more scarce, and we’re certainly trying to build as much affordable housing as we possibly can,” he said. 

Mulugeta agreed that finding a suitable plot of land was the most challenging part of the project. 

“The part that is holding us back is the land,” he said, adding that the church’s nonprofit has already hired a project manager and engaged in fundraising and that there is available Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) funding for Black Canadians that they may be able to access once they have an appropriate location.

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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