Terri Mattin opens the meeting at the Riverside Inn by giving an overall view of the housing problems in the Valley and at Lake Cowichan. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Piece of property identified for possible elder care facility in Lake Cowichan

Addressing shortfall in rental availability, smaller housing for seniors and young families vital

The Cowichan Lake Elder Care Society now has its sights on a piece of property and is beginning to marshall supporters for a fundraising drive to build a care facility in the town of Lake Cowichan.

The land is located beside the public library, and the society has collected letters from local residents to back its push.

A form letter, offered as a suggestion for supporters, said that “For decades now, when our residents reach the point where they can no longer care for themselves in their own homes, they are forced to leave the community to find the appropriate housing and level of care they need. This often results in folks being separated from family and friends and we can all agree that this is not the best case scenario. I urge all agencies who can help make the dream of a care facility in Lake Cowichan a reality, to step forward with their expertise and funding.”

A lot of interest in this project was generated at a meeting on the subject of attainable housing, held at the Riverside Inn in Lake Cowichan in late February.

Terri Mattin and Rosalie Sawrie facilitated the session, pointing out that the problem of finding appropriately priced housing is severe in the Cowichan Valley, especially around Cowichan Lake.

“Housing tenure has really shifted since 2011,” Mattin said. “Ownership has decreased by four per cent. Lake Cowichan has 26 per cent rentals, and the rental availabililty is getting tighter and tighter. The cost of buying a house has been going up.”

Affordability, suitability, and adequacy are the three important criteria when considering housing, she said, adding that in the Cowichan Valley there are “2,800 households not having their needs met for housing. In the next 10 years, 850 rentals must be added [to what is already available.].”

Sawrie said that, after consultation with communities around the Cowichan Valley, it was discovered that “businesses could not come to the Valley or expand because they couldn’t house staff. And, there are lots of minimum wage jobs not taken because people couldn’t afford to house themselves.”

The groups most under pressure from this housing crunch are seniors, young people and young families, people with mental health issues, and First Nations people, Sawrie said, adding that if facilities offering attainable housing are to be successful, “we need to address NIMBY-ism.”

In addition, she pointed out, landlords having problems with too-strong tenants rights are not encouraged to build.

“We haven’t seen new rental buildings in the Cowichan Valley since the 1970s,” she said.

However wishing doesn’t make it so, Mattin said.

“We need a lot of partnerships to make this happen” and any work done “must include good planning strategies for healthy communities. If this was easy, it would be already done.”

Bob Day, speaking for the Cowichan Lake Elder Care Society, said, “None of us has the entire skill set to get this done.”

However, there is a demographic at Lake Cowichan to support an elder care facility and many area residents are dedicated to the idea of “aging in place”.

So far, there’s been a dedicated group fighting for the idea. They’ve started with nothing and now have reached the point where the Town of Lake Cowichan is willing to set aside a piece of land near the library for the project.

There are several kinds of housing needed for seniors living in the Cowichan Lake area, he said: independent living, assisted living, extended or complex care, home support, and dementia care.

The idea of a “campus of care” is exciting but not easy to offer in just one building, Day said, but added, “the land gives us our downpayment to move forward.”

It’s not a small deal, though.

“We don’t want to build something that’s irrelevant. We are looking at three floors,” he said, but pointed out that the Elder Care Society are “just a group of people who want to do a good thing in the community. We need a lawyer, an architect to help this really move forward. We need to pay someone to do this part.”

Don Beldessi, another member of the group, said, “There’s enough of us to do this. People can help us chase down the subsidies. But it’s only do-able if we pull together. If we don’t get our stuff together, we’re going to be bypassed.”

As part of the event, the crowd attending was broken up into small groups around tables so that additional discussions could be held and ideas noted.



lexi.bainas@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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Lake Cowichan town planner James Van Hemert explains to his table what he hopes their discussion will be able to achieve. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

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