This program was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative. 

“It takes a community to raise a village,” it says on the Cortes Community Housing website (at cortescommunityhousing.org).  This has clearly been the case on Cortes Island with two upcoming housing initiatives undertaken by the Housing Committee of the Cortes Island Seniors Society. 

Cortes Currents: Manda Aufochs Gillespie interviews Sandra Wood

Expansion Of The Seniors Village

The first building project, the expansion of the Seniors Village, will expand the existing seniors village to include ten cottages from just six, occupied with a long waiting list since 2009. These are exclusively for people over the age of 55. If all goes well, construction will begin by June of 2020 and occupied before Christmas. 

Rainbow Ridge

The second, and more ambitious, building project is known as Rainbow Ridge and that is the 51 acres right next door to the Seniors Village, south of the Firehall that runs along Cemetery Rd.  This project will start by housing 20 families that can include singles, elders, or people with children. The last couple of years has including a major fundraising effort to buy this land in order to even start the process of planning and funding a housing project.

The first phase of building on Rainbow Ridge only uses six acres, the rest of the 45 is being held for community green ways and parks and to fulfill future housing needs, which Sandra Wood, Housing Coordinator for the Cortes Housing Committee, says could take any number of forms, such as long-term affordable home ownership, co-housing, assisted or supportive living spaces, tiny home villages, or more. Future community need and the ability to find funding from the provincial and federal government will help determine future plans. 

“Right now they are really keen on affordable rentals,” says Sandra Wood about BC Housing and other government funders. Affordable housing is defined as 30% or less of a person’s income. On Cortes Island, many people’s incomes are low because they are on a fixed pension or earning a local income. Cortes Island is one of the areas in Strathcona Regional District that has the highest percent of people paying more than 30% of their income for housing.

The Commercial Lot

Rainbow Ridge also includes a 2.6-acre commercial lot that is now owned by the Cortes Community Economic Development Association which will help create a vision for shops, offices, and other much needed commercial and business spaces.

Unique Homelessness

While many people from a city may find it hard to imagine how a little island with so few people and so much land, can have a housing crisis it’s not hard for anyone who has lived here in a summer to imagine. Most homes on Cortes are occupied or are only seasonally available for rental creating a “unique seasonal homelessness” says Sandra Wood that’s compounded by having no apartment buildings, condominiums, or suburbs. When housing is scarce on the island, there is no option but to move off the island. And it’s resulted in making it hard for the island to sustain workers, families, elders who want to downsize, and second generations trying to get started on home ownership. 

Going Forward

The Seniors Village expansion has received a BC housing grant and predevelopment funding. Rainbow Ridge has not yet received BC community housing funding. To get to the point where the site may be eligible for funding and to ensure the viability of this site, there has been an Eco Report, an environmental site assessment, Geotech engineers to examine soil quality and stability, hydrologists to study the aquifer and topology, and more. They are working with BC Housing to create a project that may be egible for the community housing fund, which gives grant money as well as low-interest mortgages. Though the process is competitive, BC Housing understands the demand and need for more secure and affordable housing on the islands. Sandra Wood says that it’s rare when the federal government and the provincial government both have money to pour into projects like this, and this is one of those times. “We have the opportunity to bring our tax dollars back to Cortes. Everybody pays their taxes one way or another… we are supporting the Canadian government and the BC government and, really, this is a way to have some of that money come back to Cortes to support us and our community.”

The next step toward Rainbow Ridge getting funding is a rezoning application for the 20 units being developed on the six northern acres of the land, cortescommunityhousing.org has information on how to send letters of support for the rezoning application. People interested in being future tenants in Rainbow Ridge or the Seniors Village can register their interest at the same website. There are already 100 people registered and waiting for these first 24 units being built. The need is real. Sandra Wood reminds us that providing affordable, stable housing options on Cortes is about “keeping our community together” and it takes all of us together to build a long term home on this island.