Indigenous affordable housing builder partners with UW students to provide green family home

The Little family - from left: Reign, Nevaeh, Josh (Dad), and River hope to move into their net-zero energy home at 32 Mill Street in Kitchener in April.  Absent from the photo is Cassandra (Mom). Photos by Carrie Debrone
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By Carrie Debrone
Kitchener Citizen​
November 10, 2022​

​​Wigwam Project, a local Indigenous housing organization, is partnering with University of Waterloo students to transform one of their properties into an affordable, net-zero energy home.

​A century-old, yellow brick house located at 32 Mill Street in Kitchener, that was originally awarded to the Urban Native Wigwam Project (KWUNWP) in a lottery run by the Region of Waterloo, will undergo about $370,000 in renovations to transform it into an affordable, energy-efficient home that will help keep monthly costs affordable for tenants while adhering to Indigenous values to honour and respect the land.

​ Fundraising for the project continues, and to date community donations total about $180,000. “We are very excited to see this house renovated with solar and electrical upgrades to leave as little of an environmental footprint as possible,” said Lee Ann Hundt, Executive Director of KW Urban Native Wigwam Project. “We are also upgrading the interior to be more modern and increase the flow and use of the space. We’re excited to begin a tradition that needs to happen in all our houses,” she said.

​​ “The family benefitting has been a very big part of this whole process and are super excited to move into their new home.”

​​Expected to be completed in April, the home will house two adults, three children and their pets. KWUNWP partnered with a UW architectural and engineering multidisciplinary student group called ‘Warrior Home’ to help with the design and construction. So far, about 80 students have worked on the project.

​​The real-life project is not only part of their educational learning but it will also be the student group’s submission for the 2023 Solar Decathlon Build Challenge, which sees university students from around the world compete for awards in solar design and sustainability.

​​ “It’s exciting to be able to take a model of Kitchener’s older housing stock and turn it into something sustainable,” said Pierre Roy, Senior Design Lead, Warrior Home Student Design Team. In addition to solar panels on the roof that will supply energy to the grid, the home will enjoy upgraded insulation and electrical, the basement will be dug out to renovate the space into more usable living area, heat pumps will be installed, as well as leakage detectors, dual flush toilets and low flow shower heads to avoid excessive water use.

​​ “Warrior Home is thrilled to work with KWUNWP to transform the project home into a modern, safe, affordable and most of all, sustainable house for a family for years to come,” Roy said.

​​“Our students have worked super hard over the past year to develop a model net-zero design for this home, and we can’t wait to bring it to life.” Green Party MP for Kitchener Centre, Mike Morrice, who attended the groundbreaking, said the project will allow “a better understanding of what is possible” when making older homes energy-efficient and proving that they can look just like other homes. He applauded the Urban Native Wigwam Project for creating a home that addresses not only the problem of poverty and affordable housing that is faced by Indigenous people, but also addresses the climate crisis that currently faces the world. He also praised the students’ “keen talent and your sense of urgency.”

​​“We have no time to waste,” he said.

​​“They’re not here for grades and they’re not here for money. My hats off to the students. They’ve run everything themselves. I’m humbled by their energy,” said Andrea Atkins, Faculty Advisor for Warrior Home.

​​ “If this is what they can pull off in their free time, then imagine what they will do in their careers,” she said. Waterloo Region Chair Karen Redman also praised the efforts of the partnership project saying that the community faces two large challenges – a housing crisis and climate change – and noted that this project will help both.

​​Ward 9 Kitchener councillor Debbie Chapman called the renovation “an amazing project” that is “retrofitting rather than demolition.” “I’d love to see more student partnerships with these kind of projects,” Chapman said. Kicking off construction, asbestos abatement on the home began November 9.

​​ The Urban Native Wigwam Project has obtained two other homes that it hopes to renovate into similar affordable housing next year.
Above: Kitchener Centre MP Mike Morrice talks about the project that is being undertaken by an Indigenous affordable housing builder and UW students to provide a sustainable family home as UW student Pierre Roy, Senior Design Lead, Warrior Home Student Design Team looks on.

At right: ​Ashley Hynd (left) and Lee Ann Hundt, Executive Director of KW Urban Native Wigwam Project, played in a drum circle at the ground breaking ceremony held in front of the Mill Street affordable housing project.​