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Kwe 55 opens its doors

Courtesy Martin Bécotte

For Lyle R. McComber, moving into his new apartment at Kwe 55 is a blessing.

“I love it, honestly. I love it,” said McComber. “It’s pretty wonderful, I have a lot more peace of mind here so I’m very happy.”

He moved out of the Independent Living Centre (ILC), where he’d been for about 10 years. It wasn’t the right fit for him at this point in his life, he said, and living there had become a struggle in the last few years.

McComber is into his second week in his new apartment – he is one of 20 people who have already moved in – while the rest of the tenants are gradually settling in over the next few weeks.

Kwe 55 is a social housing project in Chateauguay, converted from the old Rustik Motel. It is led by the Federation regionale des OSBL d’habitation de la Monteregie et de l’Estrie (FROHME) in partnership with Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), and other organizations in an effort to provide accessible and affordable housing amid shortages in the community and beyond. The building offers 31 units, a minimum of five of which are available to Kahnawa’kehró:non.

Units at Kwe 55 are reserved for individuals who are experiencing homelessness, are at risk of homelessness, or who earn a low income – under $33,000 per year – and who can live independently.

No pets or smoking are allowed.

“We thought that this would be a great opportunity for some of the people who we know that one of their main struggles is affordable and safe housing,” said Alana Kane, manager of mental wellness and addictions at KSCS.

Kane also sees this as a pilot in terms of collaborating with organizations outside the community.

“We definitely have a housing crisis here in Kahnawake, and one of the segments of the population that I would say are especially affected are single people,” she said, adding that the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake’s (MCK) housing department prioritizes families at this time.

For those who are getting back into the workforce or are struggling with a disability, finding a place to live is not always feasible, even for those willing to look outside the community.

“The prices are just ridiculous right now for, say, a one-bedroom. It’s almost impossible for them to find housing,” she said.

“I really do think that it’s going to make a world of difference for the people who are able to access a unit but on the other hand, it really is a drop in the bucket, in the sense that there are a lot of families in this community who have to make the hard decision to consider leaving the territory, because there isn’t affordable housing.”

There were 32 active applications on MCK’s housing department’s waitlist as of two weeks ago, according to Montour.

Although one of the drawbacks of Kwe 55 is that applicants will have to relocate outside the community, it is alleviating the housing shortage in the community by taking people off the waiting list, said MCK chief Ryan Montour, who leads the housing portfolio.

“There’s been significant movement with people moving out of our apartments, either finding bigger places or private homes that they can rent. There’s been movement in the private sector with the building of new apartments,” he said. 

“But we obviously don’t have enough to meet our community’s demand at this time,” he said, noting that the demand is also growing.

The MCK lifted the construction freeze this year and is building new units. Three new homes are being built for the community – two are two-bedroom homes, while the other will be accessible for someone with disabilities – with construction slated for December. 

“We hear the community’s cries and we have empirical data from the housing study. We know exactly what we need,” he said, adding that now it’s about finding capacity and resources to complete the undertaking. “We need 300 homes in the next 10 years,” he added. 

As per the report’s recommendations, Montour is looking to raise the mortgage limit by mid-summer. It is currently capped at $175,000.  

A housing crisis reaches beyond the community; most of Montreal is affected by the lack of affordable housing as well.

“The government, both federal and provincial, has not done its job in the last 10, 15 years to ensure that all people have access to a roof over their heads, regardless of their income,” said FROHME director Martin Bécotte, adding that they have heavily subsidized the private market but reduced spending on social-housing construction. 

Even though budgets may have increased, they’re not proportionate to hikes in the cost of construction, he added.

FROHME made a funding application for Kwe 55 to the government in 2020, and now three years later, the project is almost complete, save a few finishing touches. 

“It’s a project that the whole team fell in love with,” said Bécotte.

Applicants are evaluated based on a points system in terms of the applicant’s situation and their autonomy, given it’s not supervised housing. Although it’s temporary housing, Bécotte said they’re not imposing a strict limit to the tenants’ stay given the housing crisis in the province.

However, through the various access to resources and support, be it counselling, help in finding jobs, or any other support, Bécotte estimates that tenants will find better opportunities within five years of their stay at Kwe 55.

“We can’t set a limit because there are structural issues related to the housing crisis that are unacceptable, and we can’t put these people at risk of returning to the street because we imposed a limit.”

While McComber is still settling in, getting acquainted with his new neighbours, and taking it day by day, his long-term plans involve pursuing education.

“I think it can be a real springboard for people to restart their lives here. The rent is very, very affordable. I mean, they give you everything you need.”

Each unit comes fully furnished and costs 25 percent of a person’s income.

If anyone in Kahnawake is interested in applying for a unit, they are encouraged to reach out to KSCS.

This article was originally published in print on Friday, July 14, in issue 32.28 of The Eastern Door.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.