Residents find home at Big Lake Pointe
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Friday, Sep 13, 2013 03:00 pm
When Susan Grant talks about her new apartment at Big Lake Pointe, her entire face lights up in a big smile.
Grant and her son Cory were the first residents of a two-bedroom apartment in a new affordable housing project in St. Albert. The North Ridge development celebrated its grand opening on Thursday evening, five months after Grant first stepped into the new, open-space apartment she now calls a safe and happy home.
“My entire life, it has gotten really good. Financially I am able to put a little bit of money away every month, pay my bills on time,” she said. “I can buy our food now. I don't need the food bank any longer which is really good because other people need it.”
Construction of Big Lake Pointe, located on the corner of Giroux Road and Ray Gibbon Drive, began in December 2011 and finished 18 months later. The project is a joint effort between the St. Albert Housing Society and Alpha and Anderson property management.
The first building, 10 Nevada Place, offers 39 market-price units. The second building at 12 Nevada Place offers 79 units for moderate-income households with prices set 10 per cent below market (a one-bedroom costs $794).
Rental incentives are also available for households whose maximum income is below $36,000 for a one-bedroom, or $56,000 for a three-bedroom. There are also 28 barrier-free suites that provide for wheelchair accessibility.
“One of the things that really helps everybody's budget in all the complex is that the water, sewer, heat and in-suite laundry are all included in the rent,” said Doris Vandersteen, executive director for the St. Albert Housing Society. “So the budget for all the tenants is quite efficient.”
Vandersteen added the building is applying for a crime-free housing designation from the St. Albert RCMP.
To be approved for residency, the main criteria for new tenants is to be good neighbours, she said. All of them had to provide past landlord references and show that they could pay for their rent.
Buildings well received by residents
Neighbourhood resident Maggie Raftery said the buildings blend well into the area. Construction of affordable housing options created negative responses in the past, she said, most notably with Aurora Place in Akinsdale – a Habitat for Humanity project. But judging by conversations with her neighbours, she said Big Lake Pointe has been perceived very positively.
“I know there were a lot of doubts about having this type of building in the community but I can honestly say that there have been no problems at all from anybody here,” she said. “We don't even realize how this place is different.”
Much like Grant, other residents of Big Lake Pointe are happy to have a home they can afford in St. Albert, so they don't have to move to Edmonton. One resident, Carol, said she was on income assistance but did not want to leave the community because her family lives in St. Albert.
“St. Albert is expensive and with a (disability assistance) cheque most places will just cover the rent and that's it and you are out of luck for food, out of luck for power,” she said. “It's more comfortable here because I had a roommate before and it wasn't good so I moved here and I am on my own again and love it.”
A senior couple, Richard and Bev (who also preferred to remain anonymous), added the building offers a quiet escape from the busy roads within St. Albert. Richard, who has suffered several strokes in the past, stressed that the people at Big Lake Pointe are nice and they enjoyed the new, clean and accessible units.
Their only other option would have been a seniors' home, he said, but they aren't ready for that.
More housing needed
Vandersteen said the society received more than 300 applications for 118 available units when they first became available in May 2013. That shows demand for affordable housing in St. Albert is far from being saturated, she said.
The housing society is now looking for a new joint-venture partner for its next project and continues raising money through their HOMEConnection program to offer housing to low-income, single-parent families, victims of domestic violence and seniors living below the poverty line.
Last November, a much more fragile-looking Grant first received the keys to her new home thanks to that program. At the time, she had struggled with illness for a year (Grant received a liver transplant in 2012 and lost more than 80 pounds and much of her hair) and exhausted her savings account in paying for medication.
With an annual income below $21,000, she could barely afford the townhouse she lived in at the time and was left with $300 a month to pay for utilities, food, clothing and other essentials.
Now, sitting in her bright, open kitchen, Grant shows off her new home with pride. The walls are filled with paintings of flowers and writings about love and homecoming. There are baskets of fruit on the counters, and decorations, which she hand-paints while waiting to get better.
“I was in a place that I was always uncomfortable in and I never really felt safe there because things were stolen from our backyard,” she said. “And here it feels really safe, there's a bolt lock at the door and it's just Cory and me.”