Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish
in Vancouver and the Knights of Columbus’ Columbus Homes are teaming up to create new housing in a neighbourhood seriously lacking affordable options.

Many years will pass until they see the fruits of their labour, but Redemptorist Father Babu Mathew and Mike Garisto are already full of excitement.

“Four years ago, when I became the pastor, we had a meeting about the needs of the community, and one of the things we heard again and again was the need for housing for seniors,” said Father Mathew.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help church sits in a beautiful West Side community, with lush trees, big, old homes, and views of the North Shore mountains. The values of those homes, and the taxes, have skyrocketed in recent years, leaving some local seniors who have lived there for decades struggling to pay the bills or opting to move as far as Langley or Maple Ridge to downsize to more affordable housing.

“I have seen with my own eyes people who have been moving away, who have been so much part of this community. It is painful when we see someone who is 70, 75, or 80, and making another community their home. That’s difficult,” said Father Mathew.

Relocating isn’t only a challenge for seniors; Father Mathew said a parish suffers when its older members move away. “Seniors are truly a gift. Their experiences and the wisdom they bring to the community is amazing,” he said.

Columbus Homes, an organization of the Knights of Columbus, operates several independent and assisted living residences in partnerships with parishes (at Guardian Angels and St. Mary’s in Vancouver, Immaculate Conception in Delta, and St. Mary’s in Chilliwack). But this joint project with Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a major leap into something the organization has never done before.

It plans to build new housing – approximately 44 suites at below-market pricing – entirely for independent living. If all goes according to plan, Columbus Homes will purchase a portion of parish land, build a low-rise apartment building, and lease a portion of the building to the parish. It would offer a buy-back option at the end of the lease.

“Four years ago, when I became the pastor, we had a meeting about the needs of the community, and one of the things we heard again and again was the need for housing for seniors,” said Father Mathew.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help church sits in a beautiful West Side community, with lush trees, big, old homes, and views of the North Shore mountains. The values of those homes, and the taxes, have skyrocketed in recent years, leaving some local seniors who have lived there for decades struggling to pay the bills or opting to move as far as Langley or Maple Ridge to downsize to more affordable housing.

“I have seen with my own eyes people who have been moving away, who have been so much part of this community. It is painful when we see someone who is 70, 75, or 80, and making another community their home. That’s difficult,” said Father Mathew.

Relocating isn’t only a challenge for seniors; Father Mathew said a parish suffers when its older members move away. “Seniors are truly a gift. Their experiences and the wisdom they bring to the community is amazing,” he said.

Columbus Homes, an organization of the Knights of Columbus, operates several independent and assisted living residences in partnerships with parishes (at Guardian Angels and St. Mary’s in Vancouver, Immaculate Conception in Delta, and St. Mary’s in Chilliwack). But this joint project with Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a major leap into something the organization has never done before.

It plans to build new housing – approximately 44 suites at below-market pricing – entirely for independent living. If all goes according to plan, Columbus Homes will purchase a portion of parish land, build a low-rise apartment building, and lease a portion of the building to the parish. It would offer a buy-back option at the end of the lease.

Father Babu Mathew and Mike Garisto look over a portion of the land where the new low-rise building would be built. They hope it will be complete in 2025. (Agnieszka Ruck photo)

The opportunity allows Columbus Homes to “do what we do best, and that’s build housing and provide it for our Catholic community,” said Garisto. “We’re just honoured to have the opportunity to work with the Redemptorists and try to help share this vision they have for housing and keeping the community together.”

The building is set to offer larger suites than those in other Columbus Homes projects. It will also include some units for Redemptorist priests, as the current rectory is too large and antiquated for their needs. It will also offer some suites for teachers at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School.

Teachers, like seniors, are moving away and commuting long distances to the elementary school, said Father Mathew. A lack of affordable housing in Vancouver’s West Side, coupled with the current teacher shortage in B.C., means the school has had to recruit teachers from as far as Ireland.

“We are looking into having a few rental units so when teachers come from overseas, they can have something accessible to them.”

There are also hopes for a large meeting space for parish events.

“The mandate for Columbus Charities, when we were founded, was historically looking after low-income” earners, said Garisto. “But there is such a tremendous need for the middle-income earners and middle-income retired people that have moderate assets and still want to stay in the community as they age.”

Seniors moving into the new building would sign up for a 29-year “life lease,” a concept Columbus Homes has borrowed from the Elim Society (which runs a retirement village). Residents will be able to sell their suite back to Columbus Homes anytime, move out, or renew after 29 years.

The unique partnership benefits both Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Columbus Homes, an organization founded by the Knights of Columbus. (Agnieszka Ruck photo)

Plenty of meetings and approvals from the City of Vancouver will be necessary before a shovel can go into the ground, but Father Mathew hopes the building will be up in time for the parish’s 100th anniversary in 2025.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists, “had the vision … to bring together people in a common place where they can pray together, learn together. I think that’s what is going to happen when we have this project completed,” said Father Mathew.

“This community has been so generous to the Redemptorists. It is a time for us, as we prepare to celebrate the centennial of the Redemptorist presence in Vancouver, to give back to the community that has been generous to us. We have been gifted with this beautiful piece of land, and we want to use it for the greater good of the community, especially for parishioners.”