The Strathcona Regional District’s rural directors responded to the Housing Needs Report at the Electoral Areas Services Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 15.

Sandy Mackay, of M’akola Development Services, gave the Directors a presentation.

“We began earlier this year and continued throughout winter and spring of 2022. The study was extensive. It included a selection of key informant interviews, which I believe almost all of you participated in, as well as a community survey that garnered responses from 437 households. Which is, to be frank, quite remarkable given the size and geographic spread of your regional district,” he began.

Artist’s depiction of the Rainbow Ridge Development on Cortes Islands, which needs more funding to proceed – Cortes Community Housing

The situation was not as bad in Area A, but the study found that housing prices had risen beyond the reach of most buyers throughout much of the Strathcona Regional District, and especially on Cortes and Quadra Islands. 45% of the renters who responded to the survey could not afford to pay their rent. This situation was exacerbated by the growth of the short term rental movement, especially Airbnbs, and the large number of summer homes that remained vacant throughout the year.

See: Rural Housing Survey: unaffordable rents, vacant houses, Airbnbs

Jim Abram, the regional Director for Quadra Island, thanked MacKay for his excellent presentation, adding that he had just received an email from BC Ferries about the difficulties finding accommodation for the crews that would man the new hybrid ferries meant to operate between Quadra Island and Campbell River.

He said part of the problem on Quadra is all the red tape imposed by senior government.

Abram cited two examples from Quathiaski Cove:

  • The two years it took to build the 16 unit Quadra Island Seniors Housing Society project.
  • After 5 years of discussion and three years of development, plans for Quathiaski Cove have ground to a stop because Vancouver Island Health is demanding a new water system.
Housing units in Quathiaski Cove – courtesy  Quadra Island Seniors Housing Society 

“That puts it on our shoulders to come up with the money, come up with the approvals, and which basically means a hell of a lot more advocacy and lobbying to the provincial government to try and make these things happen. They’re in control! So we’ve got the left hand not knowing what the right hand’s trying to do properly,” he said.

Regional Director Noba Anderson said that the situation is similar on Cortes Island. They raised $1 million, purchased 50 acres and formed a non-profit society to provide affordable and seniors housing. After building four units, Cortes Community Housing needs more funding to proceed with its Rainbow Ridge project and BC Housing doesn’t appear to have it.

“Even if we were to get those funds, it is so astronomically expensive to build to their standards per square foot it’s bordering on criminal,” she said. “Not only is there a massive, massive rental housing crisis, but we don’t have a place for our fire chief, our doctors, our ferry workers.”

Anderson added, “I’m quite frustrated with our own lack of ability to actually even do the things that you’re recommending. I haven’t read every detail in the report, and I certainly will dig into it more. To be honest, looking at your recommendations was quite disheartening because even though theoretically we can, I don’t know in practice, they’re gonna work. If out of all of this gut wrenching reality, that you’ve demonstrated so beautifully, we can find a couple of places that the regional district could actually take action on, I’d really appreciate that.”

McKay promised to identify some low hanging fruit that the Regional District could act on.

Growth of an affordability gap between 2015 and 2020 – screenshot from SRD Electoral Areas Housing Needs Report

The other two Directors had a different perspective on the housing crisis.

Regional Director Brenda Leigh does not believe there is such a thing as affordable housing, ‘it is whatever the market will dictate.’

“I saved for years  for a down payment to buy my house,  worked hard, got a small mortgage and managed to pay it off 15 years ago,” she explained.

“There are existing opportunities to live cheaply. Area D has lots of affordable units in the mobile home parks, in the vacation rental segment when it’s not full of people.  It’s always full of people that live there permanently actually. It’s very affordable housing. Maybe that’s why I’m not quite as concerned about the idea that people can’t find affordable (housing).”

Gerald Whalley said, “Area A is  a very unique situation, especially in the Sayward Valley. We’re not encumbered with bylaws or zoning restrictions, so people can rent their houses or basements or attics or whatever they sweet please. So that isn’t the problem.”

He did not believe that his area had much in common with what was being said about Cortes and Quadra Islands.

Top image credit: Screenshot from YouTube of the Electoral Areas Services Committee Meeting of Wed June 15, 2022.