A new Merritt apartment building that looks to open its doors in the coming days has had its fair share of controversy before receiving final occupancy for the building. Olympic Villas, located on Walters Street, is a four-storey apartment featuring a number of unit types and amenities, and was built utilizing BC Housing’s “HousingHub’’ program. 

The HousingHub program was created in 2018 and works with communities, non-profit organizations, and private-sector developers to increase the supply of rental housing and ownership options for middle-income residents. The previous Merritt City Council questioned the affordability of the units, before ultimately passing the application for development without any of the initially proposed affordable housing units included. 

The provincial funding of the project also faced criticism in the BC Legislature. Online response to the building, especially the cost of rent, has been mainly frustrated. Executives with Olympic Villas told the Herald that their view on the response is positive, citing the building’s design.

“The public has been very, very positive about it,” said Irfan Sonawala, director with Olympic Villas Inc. “The class of the building, you wouldn’t even find in Vancouver.”

Rent at Olympic Villas ranges from $1,020 for a studio to $2,380 for a three-bedroom apartment. Sonowala said that while he originally hoped to include 19 units at below market-value rent, but was unable to reach an agreement on pricing or housing density with the City. 

The Province of BC provided Olympic Villas Inc approximately $16.6 million in low-interest financing via the HousingHub program, which will be paid back with interest by the company. The new building boasts 75 units at a rent that Sonowala says is reasonable, all things considered.

“The rent in Kamloops in a six year old building is still higher than ours,” added Sonowala.

“The cost of construction has increased tremendously in the past two years, especially with COVID, supply chain shortages, labour issues, and all sorts of stuff. What we have done and provided is way cheaper.” 

The application and construction process has been a long one for Olympic Villas, initially kicking off in 2019. Three years later, the building is just days away from final occupancy. Sonowala said the building rent takes into consideration a number of delays and supply chain shortages, along with the building’s high quality of design and construction.

Ultimately, it comes down to ensuring the building is financially sustainable, said Sonowala. He hopes to create a community hub at the building, and attract “higher class and professional people” to the Nicola Valley. 

“Housing represents the quality of life, which determines the level of satisfaction and happiness in our lives,” added Sonawala.

“We have built with amenities and construction quality to create such happy memories beyond essential housing. This building is targeted to attract professionals and entrepreneurs who play a key role in the growth of smaller towns to economical hubs. We are appreciative of the HousingHub program that goes beyond essential affordable housing to quality housing at market rents that make such remote development possible.”

For more information on provincially funded housing projects, visit www.bchousing.org/homes-for-BC.