Edmonton church land redeveloped as net-zero homes for immigrant families

Edmonton Church Conversion
WATCH ABOVE: An innovative new housing project is being called a win on multiple fronts. It's become a home for immigrant families and helped sustain church and school. Kim Smith explains.

An innovative housing project in North Glenora has become home for dozens of immigrant families, while also helping to sustain a local church and elementary school in the area.

“We have never dreamed of living in this kind of house. It’s easy to clean, no carpet and large enough,” Hsar Keelar said. She and her husband, along with their five kids and grandparents, moved into one of the five-bedroom suites on Dec. 22.

The family is from Myanmar and were sponsored to come to Canada in 2013 after spending time in a refugee camp in Thailand.

“It wasn’t safe for us [at home] — that’s why we moved into a refugee camp,” Keelar said.
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“Now we are safe and we are happy with our life.”

The North Glenora affordable housing project, built on the site of what used to be an aging church, is home to 16 families, including more than 35 elementary-school-aged children.

READ MORE: Alberta government unveils new $1.2B affordable housing strategy

The Westmount Presbyterian Church began planning the project about four years ago. It partnered with the Right at Home Housing Society to tear down the old building and make way for a smaller church, daycare and 16 affordable townhomes.

The project is also a boost for Coronation Elementary School, which was in jeopardy of closing in 2014 due to low enrolment.

“North Glenora has been so gracious, and they’ve coined the phrase ‘YIMBY’ — Yes In My Backyard,” said Lori Sigurdson, minister for Seniors and Housing, at the official opening on Friday. “They’re really working to support the new families coming into this community.”

Hsar Keelar and her family moved into one of the suites on Dec. 22.
Hsar Keelar and her family moved into one of the suites on Dec. 22. Kim Smith / Global News

The new church and the townhomes also feature net-zero energy consumption.

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“It’s part of what makes this affordable,” Peter Amerongen, director of project builder Habitat Studio, said.

“They’ll essentially have almost zero energy costs going into this.”

“We’re using grid electricity right now, but in the summer we’ll be producing way more [solar power] than the buildings are using, so the electricity that we’re producing will get used in the neighbourhood,” Amerongen said.

READ MORE: 2018 to tie up loose ends in Edmonton housing strategy

In addition to the solar panels on the roof, the townhomes were also built with a geothermal heating system.

Bernie Schaloske, site manager for the project, explained that there are no gas lines to either the church or the townhomes.

“Out here in the parking lot, there are 33 holes, 265 feet deep. We’re pumping glycol down into the earth. It’s getting to about 7 C,” Schaloske said.

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“In each of those suites is a refrigerator built in reverse. What we’re trying to do is, we’re cooling that glycol down to about zero degrees Celsius. In the process of cooling it, it has some waste energy, which is heat,” he added.

“We’re basically using that heat to heat the space that these families are enjoying.”

Mayor Don Iveson said the project is an example of what neighbourhoods need more of in Edmonton. About 5,000 families are currently on the waitlist for social housing, Iveson said.

“We’re just at the very beginning of a boom in affordable housing, thanks to the new federal and provincial commitments,” Iveson said.

“[It’s a] huge, huge mountain to climb still. But this is a really good base camp to look at and say, ‘We can do more of this.'”

Schaloske said the North Glenora project is the first net-zero affordable housing project of its type in Canada.