The provincial government has approved 91 affordable housing units for Surrey’s Legion Veterans Village in Whalley.
Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby made the announcement Wednesday morning, approving these dwellings for the mixed-use, multi-purpose project that will be dedicated to serving Canadian Armed Forces veterans and first responders at 10626 City Parkway.
“Our veterans have sacrificed so much and they deserve a safe and affordable place to call home where they can get the services they need,” Eby said. “Our government is committed to building more affordable housing and this project in particular will be an important centrepiece in Surrey.”
This will include studio suites and one and two-bedroom suites, with 10 units designed specifically to meet accessibility requirements.
The $312-million project, architecturally inspired by Canada’s National Vimy Memorial in France, is being initiated by the Royal Canadian Legion BC/Yukon Command, Whalley Legion Branch 229 and the Lark Group. It will house Canada’s first “centre of excellence,” treating veterans and first responders with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health, as well as the Whalley Legion, which has been operating since 1947.
Tony Moore, president of the Whalley branch, said the village will be the “catalyst for change for our Legion to not only better support our members, but also ensure our future legacy.”
The Legion Veterans Village will be developed in two phases, with the first featuring Canada’s first “Centre of Excellence” for veterans and first-responders struggling with PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health concerns. Slated to be finished by early 2022, the first phase will also include an Innovative Centre for Rehabilitation providing clinical rehabilitation, research, and trauma counseling and will also have a 10,500 square-foot “state-of-the-art” facility for Branch 229 featuring an assembly hall for cadets, banquet space, and a kitchen as well as a coffee shop, a bar and restaurant and underground parking. The newly approved 91 affordable housing units, to be managed by the Vancouver Resource Society (VRS), will complement 171 market housing units in phase one.
The second phase will see construction of a 26-storey building, with 325 market housing units, designed by Neil Banich of WA Architects Ltd.
Bruce Ralston, MLA for Surrey Whalley, noted there are “no other projects that combine these elements so efficiently under the same umbrella as the Legion Veterans Village.
“We look forward to seeing this project succeed in Surrey especially here in Whalley so the rest of Canada can look towards this as a model and beacon for veterans and first responders with PTSD,” Ralston said.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum echoed that. “The demand for more PTSD and mental health programs has never been higher, especially during these COVID-19 times,” he said.
Meantime, it’s been a hard go on local veterans during this pandemic. Moore told the Now-Leader earlier this year that the Legion was “working on our meagre savings.”
“The construction is going ahead, they’ve been taking all their precautions,” he said.
Rowena Rizzotti, project lead and vice-president of health care and innovations for the Lark Group, told the Now-Leader during the early days of the pandemic that they weren’t sure what would be considered essential work.
“We were deeply grateful when government determined construction would remain an essential service,” she said.
Construction workers were doing forming and pouring concrete by the beginning of July. “Essentially it went on uninterrupted, which was fantastic.
“The building construction is at pace, uninterrupted, approvals all ascertained. What we didn’t anticipate was the interest, and because of COVID, and because of the anticipated mental health impact that COVID will have, just because of the traumatic experiences that many front-line health care workers, as well as first-responders and clients and families themselves, there’s anticipation of a second wave of mental health-related impacts and so it was referred to us that it would be more important than ever for us to get started on our research studies to find solutions and find interventions using technologies that can accelerate these interventions,” Rizzotti said.