A B.C. First Nation is using tiny houses to make huge changes to the lives of the homeless in its community.
At the Nak'azdli Whut'en First Nation, close to Prince George, four men received keys last week to the very first houses they've ever owned.
And it's all thanks to a pilot project spearheaded by Aileen Prince, the reserve's capital and lands manager.
One of four new homeowners at the Nak'azdli Whut'en First Nation receives the key to his new house. (Photo: Nak'azdli Whut'en/Facebook)
The idea came to Prince after she kept seeing homeless people on her community's streets. She said although housing problems were an issue for many people on the reserve, they were tougher on homeless individuals who were “on the fringe” of every social program and service.
She wanted something concrete to draw them in, to make them part of the community. Since housing was the most significant obstacle, building houses for the homeless quickly came to mind.
"I believe in people."
"Everybody deserves a home, everybody deserves a chance," Prince told The Huffington Post Canada.
There was some hesitation when the project was proposed to the band council earlier this year.
Some worried about the homes being wrecked, others were concerned the costs would be too high or difficult to recover.
That didn't matter much to Prince.
She preferred to give prospective tenants a chance at being masters of their own domains.
"I believe in people," she said.
One of the homeowners is pictured in his new house. Each property is 320 square feet and includes a porch, kitchenette, washroom, washer and dryer. (Photo: Nak'azdli Whut'en/Facebook)
The project was eventually approved and construction on the homes began in May.
Applicants had to be at least 45 years old and meet minimum requirements such as never having owned a home. Eight people applied and four were selected.
On Nov. 18, the first-time homeowners got their keys.
"I think they were pretty excited. They were kind of skeptical at first," she said with a laugh, "which, I mean, I don't blame them."
As construction progressed and the houses went up, Prince said the tenants got more and more excited, paying frequent visits to the site to check on the construction of their new home.
The properties are 320 square feet and include a small kitchenette, front porch, washroom, washer and dryer.
Construction on the reserve's four tiny houses began in May. (Photo: Nak'azdli Whut'en/Facebook)
Prince said the total cost of the project hasn't been finalized, as bills are still being paid, but she estimates each unit will come in at around $45,000.
Each tenant pays between $380 and $400 a month, Prince said, along with utilities. She expects they'll pay off the mortgages — which the reserve holds with the Bank of Montreal — in five years.
She said one of the tenants told a staff member he doesn't allow smoking inside his house, makes visitors put their shoes outside and has started reading again.
"Everybody deserves a home, everybody deserves a chance."
Prince said she thought the tenants' new experience of being "the host" of a home, rather than a guest, was amazing.
And although the pilot project isn't going to solve the reserve's housing issues, she said it's a step in the right direction. Other benefits include teaching community members about home ownership and money management essentials.
Nak'azdli Whut'en's slogan on its website and social media pages is "We Challenge the Future."
That statement couldn't ring truer for four new homeowners on the reserve, who until recently had never had a space to call their own.