Many people know that Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) does good work in the community supporting people who have disabilities to live good lives of their choosing. Not as many people know that SHS has to sister organizations: Peninsula Estates Housing Society (PEHS) and The Semiahmoo Foundation (TSF). Each of the three organizations has their own constitution and bylaws, and each strives to fulfill its own mission. There are areas where the three organizations’ missions overlap, and, in these cases, it makes sense that the organizations would work in partnership to support the achievement of this portion of their mission. When the three organizations work together, they are known as UNITI. The most obvious focus of UNITI is housing, as the missions or constitutions of SHS, PEHS, and TSF include the following statements:
Semiahmoo House Society (Mission): “People choose where and with whom they live”
Peninsula Estates Housing Society (Mission): “People live in inclusive and affordable housing that reflects the diversity of their community”
The Semiahmoo Foundation (Constitution): “To establish a building fund for the purposes of establishing and/or developing building options for adults who have disabilities, primarily those adults who have disabilities having a low or modest income, including constructing, providing, maintaining, leasing, owning and managing low-rental housing projects and/or assisting or collaborating with other organizations for such purposes.”
UNITI partner organizations worked together to imagine, develop, and complete Chorus, the first purpose-built rental apartment in Surrey in over 30 years, which has been the home for over 100 Surrey citizens for the past year and a half, including 21 tenants who have developmental disabilities. For this project, TSF invested in the pre-development of the project and holds a mortgage on apartments; SHS provides supports for 17 of the tenants who have disabilities; and PEHS owns and operates the building.
The missions and constitutions of the UNITI partners ensure that any housing we develop will be inclusive and will reflect the diversity of our community. It is also clear that housing that includes people with disabilities works. We recently completed a very thorough review of what was working and not working with Chorus and the tenants we support there and found that the tenants were thriving in many facets of their lives, including employment, friendships, and independence. Many of the tenants have presented about their experiences living in Chorus as major conferences, including the recently completed Housing Central Conference in Richmond that featured over 1400 delegates from around the world.
One does not have to read many housing reports in local media to understand that Surrey and British Columbia need more housing models like Chorus. The UNITI partner organizations are committed to building more inclusive and affordable housing that reflects the community. We will be looking for support from all levels of government and from our neighbours and supporters to get this done. We are looking forward to the specifics of Surrey’s Affordable Housing Strategy, set to be released in January. We are hopeful that the strategy will have a clear commitment of levels of municipal support for the continuum of housing, and that housing that is run by a not-for-profit organization and is inclusive and affordable will be incentivized differently than privately built market developments.
I was recently invited by Joan, one of the tenants supported by SHS at Chorus, to visit her apartment to check out her Christmas decorations. Her apartment was warm and inviting and wonderfully decorated with Christmas ornaments and a little lighted village with cotton batting snow on a side table. Joan, like most of us, delighted in showing off what she had done to make her apartment her home. She is able to choose who to invite over and to host people she likes when she wants to. In her relationships, she has a stronger position because she is able to share her home with others. Joan and the other tenants of Chorus personify the motto of UNITI: We’re Stronger Together.
By Doug Tennant, CEO of UNITI