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These Coquitlam homes are only 8 years old, but won't be torn down as neighbourhood redevelops

A previous project by Renewal Development saved 10 homes from demolition in Port Moody.

Four First Nations families will soon have new homes thanks to a redevelopment project in Coquitlam.

But they won’t have to move from their ancestral home on the Harrison River in Agassiz.

Rather, the homes will be coming to them.

Today, June 18, representatives from Sts’ailes Nation, Coquitlam city council, Metro Vancouver and Renewal Development gathered in front of the homes in the Burquitlam neighbourhood — two of them shorn of their ground floors —  to celebrate the innovative project to save them from demolition and give them new life in another community.

The Dogwood Street residences were built just eight years ago.

But, said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, the arrival of SkyTrain nearby has exerted pressure to densify the neighbourhood and the homes will make way for two residential buildings at six- and 12-storeys tall.

It’s a story Renewal Development’s Glyn Lewis heard before.

Earlier this year, he brokered a deal that saw 10 mid-century homes moved from Port Moody’s Coronation Park neighbourhood to the shishalh Nation near Sechelt as Vancouver-based developer Wesgroup Properties begins construction of its massive Inlet District project across from the Inlet Centre SkyTrain station.

Lewis had been pitching his “ambitious and innovative” business model to save homes in the way of redevelopment ever since his own sister moved her heritage home on Vancouver Island. He said about 700 of the 2,700 homes that are demolished in Metro Vancouver every year are in good enough shape to be moved to create affordable housing elsewhere, especially in remote parts of the province where it’s expensive to build from scratch.

“We’re working through the demolition-first paradigm,” Lewis said. “But we need the political will to create stronger incentives to save homes.”

Stewart said the city is doing what it can, including speeding the approval of various permits to facilitate moving the homes and providing traffic control when they make their way through the streets sometime in early July.

Coun. Craig Hodge, who’s also the vice-chair of Metro Vancouver’s zero waste committee and the chair of the National Zero Waste Council, said he hopes to see more developers pick up the mantle of saving and repurposing homes and local and regional governments can play a role by enacting long-term policies and incentives to help make that happen.

“We have to make sure we’re not subsidizing the cost of demolition,” Hodge said.

Sts’ailes Grand Chief Willie Charlie said acquiring the homes was an “easy sell” for his council as they cast about for ways to provide affordable homes in the community of 700, some of whom are crowded into inadequate housing fraught with leaks and mould.

While the first storeys of the four homes won’t be making the journey across town to Fraser Mills, where they’ll be loaded onto barges for the trip up the Fraser and Harrison rivers, most of their fixtures and cabinets have been salvaged and stored in the second floors that are being saved.

When the bottomless homes arrive at their destination, new foundations and first storeys, built by local contractors, will be readied for their top-up and eventual occupancy sometime in the fall.

“To simply demolish homes is not in the best interest of society when there’s such a housing shortage,” Stewart said.

“We hope these homes will flourish in their new setting for years to come.”