Sep 1, 2023

Qualico Communities BC Repurposes Land and Homes Slated for Future Development as Part of Its Land Activation Strategy

Surrey, BC – Managing acquired land and finding creative ways to contribute back to the community is the basis of Qualico Communities BC’s Land Activation Strategy and ties directly to the business unit’s Corporate Responsibility action item, ‘Where appropriate, undeveloped land is used temporarily for community services or programs’.

Vacant land and/or properties that are not being used can be wasteful, considering the high cost and scarcity of land in Metro Vancouver. By providing land at a nominal rate to those in the community who can benefit most from it, Qualico can achieve a win-win situation where the business provides a community benefit while deterring illegal activity on the premises.

Knowing that vacant land and properties can potentially cause issues for surrounding neighbourhoods, Nathan Hildebrand, Vice-President, Qualico Communities BC, said the business unit looks for ways to utilize the land and benefit the community before the land is slated for development.

“As part of our large assemblies, we find that certain properties we purchase for future development can and should be utilized while we work through the approval processes,” he said. “Typically, on our greenfield sites, this means trying to continue to use the land for housing and in certain places, trying to convert the land to some sort of additional use.”

Some examples of these additional uses include clearing the land and using it for various types of farming, creating dirt bike courses, and establishing community gardens. In one area, Qualico Communities BC cleared around two acres of land and signed a sublease on a parcel of land that was then leased to a group called Small Blessings. The group created an animal retreat on the land, where it runs tours for children and small groups.

These additional uses help bring the existing community together and can improve safety, health, and relationships in neighbourhoods where vacant land or homes are repurposed before redevelopment. Moreover, diversifying the neighbourhood by using the vacant land or homes for other purposes can create new or renewed interest in the area, which can potentially result in increased exposure for future development projects on the land.

A prime example of Qualico Communities BC’s land activation is its recent involvement with Operation Welcome Home. Through the initiative, the business unit is providing temporary housing for Ukrainian newcomers by donating homes that are slated for future demolition, but that are still livable in the meantime. The homes are in redevelopment areas where there will be two- to five-year timelines before demolition begins.

“This keeps the local neighbourhood diverse and safe,” said Nathan. “Continuing to manage and maintain these older homes keeps the fabric of the transitional neighbourhood intact until such time that approvals are received and redevelopment can start.”

Thousands of homes are torn down every year in the Lower Mainland, and prior to being torn down, they may sit vacant for a year or more until the land is needed to start a new development. Operation Welcome Home extends the life expectancy of the homes a bit longer and helps newcomers get on their feet by providing them with a home address. Larger homes allow multiple families to live together, offering a sense of community and opportunities to pool resources to purchase things like a vehicle when public transit isn’t readily accessible.

Non-profit organization SUCCESS runs Operation Welcome Home alongside the Maple Hope Foundation. Operation Welcome Home began in Vancouver and has since expanded to Richmond and Surrey, BC. SUCCESS assumes management of the properties for the duration of the program, and tenants are identified through the Maple Hope Foundation. Tenants pay a nominal rent designed to cover program costs. Many tenants live in the homes for a short period before securing employment and their own living accommodations, opening up space for others to benefit from the program.

Nathan said Qualico Communities BC was initially approached by another developer and a long-time Surrey councillor about expanding the program into other communities.

“There were limited options for placing families further east into the Fraser Valley,” he said. “However, that is also where a lot of jobs and opportunities are for new arrivals to Canada, so being part of this initiative made sense.”

Once Qualico Communities BC was introduced to the initiative, things moved quickly. The team recently signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the organization, and the first families will be placed in a home Qualico owns in South Surrey. Nathan noted that Qualico Communities BC will potentially be doing the same with another home in Abbotsford in August.

While Operation Welcome Home is currently targeted at Ukrainian refugees, the hope is that the program can be utilized in the future for other refugee groups or vulnerable populations that arrive in BC, and that Qualico Communities BC can continue to offer temporary housing in more communities through the initiative.

“Using the housing we own and maximizing its value does not always need to be monetary,” said Nathan. “Doing our part to provide housing for new Canadians in need while we work through our processes is a great way to help our community and the cities we work in. We are proud to be part of this initiative in Surrey and look forward to providing more opportunities like this in the future.”

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