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First Track: Community is Everything

Sasha Faris and Matt Ilich are creating community while inspiring other property developers to follow suit with Ukrainian refugee housing at East Vancouver's Woodland Block.


BCBusiness First Track Investment and Development

Credit: First Track Investment & Development

Sasha Faris and Matt Ilich are creating community while inspiring other property developers to follow suit with Ukrainian refugee housing at East Vancouver’s Woodland Block.

In the hurry-up-and-wait world of residential development, property developers purchase existing properties, which commonly lie dormant for several years while undertaking the long and painful city process to obtain the permits necessary to redevelop.

But Sasha Faris and Matt Ilich have found a unique way to put that waiting time to good use—and at the same time, help displaced Ukrainian war refugees find secure housing.

first-track-housingFirst Track Investment and DevelopmentFaris and Ilich, president and director, respectively, of Vancouver-based First Track Investment and Development, repurposed two otherwise vacant homes awaiting demolition at Nanaimo Street and East 10th Avenue (which, along with five other homes, will ultimately make way for First Track’s 72-unit Woodland Block series of new apartments and townhomes) to be safe, affordable housing for families seeking refuge from Russia’s assault on Ukraine. 

The homes were refurbished and furnished by First Track under Operation Welcome Home, an initiative of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (formally known as the United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society) and Maple Hope Foundation, which works with Ukrainian refugees. Through a combined effort with municipal staff, a settlement services operator and advisors, the project will provide living amenities, job opportunities, English language learning, and other support that’s needed to live in Metro Vancouver.

While settlement services in Vancouver have been some time in the making, First Track spearheaded these fully furnished homes, and Faris (who grew up as a member of one of Vancouver’s most established real estate families, Intergulf Development Group) was willing to undertake the legal and bureaucratic complexities of making the homes useful to a worthy cause.

He says with regards to dealing with the City of Vancouver, “If we can show them that it’s as turn-key as this and if we have a blueprint they can follow and know, ‘Okay, this is something I can do’ … it’s something they can give back.”

first-track-2First Track Investment and DevelopmentThe initiative reflects one of the worst kept secrets about B.C.’s residential development sector: that developers are constantly seeking ways to give back to the communities they serve. In fact, First Track’s efforts to help Ukrainian refugees are in keeping with Faris and Ilich’s vow when they launched their company to “do things differently” and “walk the real estate paths least taken.”

Their efforts are also true to their goal, as outlined on their website, to “build things that matter, to make a positive imprint on communities and to collaborate with people who want the same. At the end of the day, we are locals who want to see our city progress in better and inspiring ways, together.”

First Track’s generosity goes a long way in enhancing the already-positive tone surrounding Woodland Block. The aim of the development is to create a distinct new community near Trout Lake; the 72 townhomes and flats were designed for real life, with mid-century modern influences, borrowing inspiration from New York architecture, a collection of retail conveniences just steps away from one’s front door, and amenities intended to bring the whole block together.

Faris and Ilich’s determination to do things differently led to them collaborating with Ekistics Architecture and House of Bohn to make Woodland Block special. “We wanted to create a community within a community, where residents can be proud to call their home far from cookie-cutter,” Faris says.

first-track-3First Track Investment and DevelopmentStretching across a full city block, Woodland Block will consist of beautifully crafted one- to three-bedroom homes that are simple, functional and inviting, with plenty of personality. This is the result of House of Bohn founder and creative director Karin Bohn marrying classic mid-century-modern style with contemporary design.

The homes will incorporate private yards and rooftop patios, ideal for residents wanting to carry gatherings from the kitchen to the outdoors and to feel connected to the surrounding community. Bohn says of the ingredients informing her design strategy, “I love the community aspect of East Vancouver, and I also love the unpretentious nature of the community. It’s a no-B.S. area of Vancouver!”

This, of course, matches First Track’s development ethos. “Our projects are informed by the history, fabric and context of their environments while focusing on craftsmanship,” Ilich says. “We inject the soul of community into each of our projects, while finding compelling ways to deviate from the norm.”

Given their philosophy that community is everything, First Track supports a variety of causes: it is the lead sponsor of the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market and Eat Local Program, a gold sponsor of St. Paul Hospital’s Lights of Hope, and actively involved and supportive of the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation.

But its collaboration with Maple Hope, the Rennie Foundation and S.U.C.C.E.S.S. is currently drawing the most attention, with the First Track houses intended to help Ukrainian refugees ultimately resettle in Metro Vancouver. “Other developers have been inspired to take our lead, which is enormously fulfilling,” Faris says, noting that PC Urban and Headwater Projects offered homes on their own redevelopment sites, and upwards of 50 residences in various locations are expected to come on-line under Operation Welcome Home.

Good things are coming. Soon. Get the full story at

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Created by BCBusiness in partnership with First Track Investment and Development