The Esketemc First Nations (Alkali Lake) is doing business a little differently.
Aside from building new housing stock more cheaply than the single-family residential homes traditionally built on reserves, the community is looking to establish a model of home ownership that the majority of Canadians enjoy.
According to Eddy Davis, Esketemc operations manager, the constraints of federal funding have historically resulted in “substandard housing because they (bands) don’t get enough money to build the houses properly.”
Up against a financial wall, Davis set out with the idea to design and build durable and aesthetically pleasing housing that could be built by the community at a fraction of the cost. He contacted an Okanagan building-supply company that provided the timber for the timber-frame homes.
What Davis and the Esketemc First Nations discovered were the homes could be built by trained community members quickly and cheaply — estimated at approximately $85 per square foot compared to $140 per square foot for a stick-frame home.
Davis believes the cost savings is a direct result of using local labour and fewer and different materials that don’t require as many tradespeople to carry out the work.
“The timber framing is a huge cost savings right there. When you do stick frame you have the drywall and the mudding and the taping, the painting and the insulating and those are all separate processes and they usually have separate tradespeople coming in to do each one,” he says.
The idea was also to eliminate the need for drywall that can be prone to mould. The six-unit, three bedroom, 1,200-square-feet homes are built using eight by eight timbers — in this case beetle-kill wood — laid on top of each other and coated with a seal.
In-floor heating operating on a centralized wood boiler system has been installed to heat the units.
That, says Davis, was another cost-saving measure.
Community members can expect to move in beginning in May.
Another unique feature of the six-plex is that in the future it will be bought and sold.
“We’re in the process of implementing a home ownership program,” says Davis. “We want to institute this within our community. But because the land is held by the federal government, the band cannot sell the land the homes sit on until the treaty process is complete.”
In the meantime, new homeowners will hold a lease on a specific piece of property.
The benefit of home ownership is threefold: pride in ownership, less financial responsibility for the band as mortgages are held by individuals, and the creation of potential revenue streams as the band creates a company — of community members trained as certified builders for the timber-frame style of construction — that can build the homes in other communities.
Davis says the community has had some concerns about maintaining its integrity if homes are for sale on the open market.
“We’re still talking about it but the general consensus so far is realistically how many people are going to come out here and start buying houses?”
Concern has mingled with increasing interest as community members come to realize they have greater choice under the home ownership model.
Davis expects the band — the holder of the six-plex’s mortgage — won’t make a profit when selling the homes. That will come later.
“Normally the home builder wants to make a profit but I think all we’re wanting to do here is break even and provide low-cost affordable great housing for community members and put profit aside,” he says.
“When we start building outside our community, then we will look for profit. But for our community members I think we want to keep it as affordable as we can.”