From left: Kootenay Region Association for Community Living (KRACL) operations manager Serena Naeve, Regional District of Central Kootenay Area C director Adam Casemore, Columbia Basin Trust senior manager (benefits delivery) Mark Brunton, Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall and KRACL president Alex Nilsson at the affordable housing opening on Jan. 26. (Brian Lawrence)

Kootenay Region Association for Community Living officially opens affordable housing in Creston

Nine affordable units for people with disabilities open at Creston’s Spectrum Farms

“There can’t be anything more noble in the world than to volunteer to find lodging for someone.”

So said Alex Nilsson, president of Kootenay Region Association for Community Living (KRACL), to a crowd of about 60 at the Jan. 26 opening ceremony for affordable housing at Spectrum Farms, where KRACL has developed nine units for people with disabilities.

Built with $2.3 million from BC Housing and $250,000 from the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT), the project broke ground in May 2018, with a new facility constructed on the footprint of an old building.

“I can’t tell you how satisfying, how heart-warming and how exciting it is to have achieved something like this,” said Rita Scott, who MCed the event and represented the Creston Valley Community Housing Society, which worked closely with KRACL on the project, having opened its own six-unit housing in 2015.

The new building has six one-bedroom and three two-bedroom units, with three of them wheelchair accessible, and is on land purchased in 1962 by the Kootenay Society for Handicapped Children, which was started by Trail’s Dr. William Endicott in 1951, eventually becoming KRACL in 2005.

Scott called the opening an “amazingly happy occasion,” and gave credit to the volunteers who were the driving force behind the project, particularly Heather More, also part of the housing society, “without whom you don’t get anything built.”

Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall spoke after Scott, noting that groundbreakings for projects of this type are highlights of her work in public office.

“But you know what’s better than groundbreaking? It’s when people move in,” she said.

She also acknowledged the volunteers, and singled out Nilsson, the tireless volunteer she met soon after being elected MLA in 2008.

“You give so much to the community,” she said to him. “To join with you today to celebrate nine new homes in the Creston Valley, homes that they need, is such an honour.”

Mungall kept her comments brief, and Regional District of Central Kootenay Area C director Adam Casemore and CBT senior manager (benefits delivery) Mark Brunton followed suit.

“This is a very valuable facility,” said Casemore.

“What you’ve accomplished here is phenomenal,” said Brunton.

Nilsson told the assembled crowd that his first experience with the facilities on the property was as health inspector in 1971, after which he become a board member.

“It’s followed me around,” he said. “I couldn’t get away from it.”

KRACL operations manager Serena Naeve acknowledged that moving is considered to be a high-stress activity, and that some of the residents are from other areas of the Kootenays than Creston.

“This was a huge challenge for persons with disabilities to pack up their stuff, find the financial means to move, organize people to transport their belongings here, and leave neighbourhoods and communities that they had lived in for a long time,” she said. “It took courage to move through the stress and often pain to make it here to this new building.”

For the tenants, who began moving in during the last week of December, the stress was worth it. Not only do they enjoy the picturesque property and surrounding scenery, as well as the horses in the Creston and District Society for Community Living’s Therapeutic Riding Program on the grounds, but also the improved mental health that comes from being safe and warm.

“Moving to the new building on Spectrum Farm has been a highlight in my recent life,” a resident told Naeve. “My outlook on life has improved greatly in the short time I have been here, and thus my mental health has improved, as well. Not enough can be said for having a safe, self-contained, warm and healthy space to live in, all things I have found since moving here. The care and concern of all volunteers and staff who have worked to create this space is and has been inspiring.”

One younger tenant told Naeve that it has been very difficult to move from place to place or to have no choice but to live with family.

“Having my own apartment and independence is breathtaking,” they said. “I am at peace now.”

“A piece of heaven to come here,” said another.

Frank, a 60-year-old resident with a disabled son, spoke to the audience. His family had lived in Creston for 10 years, but left following the breakup of his marriage five years ago.

His son lives with Asperger syndrome and Becker muscular dystrophy, which made attending public school a challenge. They lived in an RV, so Frank tried home schooling his son while travelling, but after his son tried to run away in Austin, Tex., they eventually returned to Creston to live with Frank’s mother.

Frank heard about the new housing at Spectrum Farms, and when he discovered that the two-bedroom suites were in the basement, drafted a list of concerns, including dampness and other typical basement issues. He brought the list with him to a viewing, but realized his fears were unfounded.

“I was blown away,” he said. “I put my list in my pocket. … They’re not luxurious, but attention was put into the quality and detail.”

Naeve closed the ceremony, which was followed by tours of the suites, by welcoming the tenants to the building, on the special property created by Dr. Endicott.

“It is our continued vision to create an inclusive community in the spirit of its beginnings,” she said.

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