Lake Cowichan needs attainable housing now, says Michele March.
And she’s willing to put her back into launching a Lake Cowichan Land Trust to move the project forward.
March has persuaded town council to at least meet with her to learn more about her plans.
At the June 12 council meeting, she presented her extensive research to council and also spoke about it.
This is not the first time that housing-in-a-hurry has been a noted need in Lake Cowichan she said, referring to the building of the Parkstone development, still known as the Hundred Houses.
There were so many people coming to the area after the Second World War in 1946 because of the plentiful jobs in the forest industry that “the federal government financed the construction of 100 homes”.
It was a huge project.
“The logging industry in and around the area had really taken off. Hillcrest’s mill at Mesachie Lake and Western Forest Industries mill at Honeymoon Bay had to bus their workers, mostly veterans, up from Duncan as housing close to their work didn’t exist. To solve the problem, the province of B.C. donated Crown land to the Village of Lake Cowichan and the federal government financed the constructing of 100 homes. The cost of clearing the land was more than the municipality could pay, so the employers (Hillcrest and WFI) participated in site preparation and a local cafe arranged to feed the construction workers.
“In less than one year, the construction of the new subdivision was nearing completion…the result of that collaborative and cooperative effort,” she said.
“Lake Cowichan is facing another, yet different, housing crisis today: a problem it shares with many areas in British Columbia and other parts of Canada. Affordable rental housing is in short supply and purchasing a home for the first time remains out of reach for many working families, as housing prices continue to escalate.
“And, our community is aging. Many seniors require housing options consider mobility issues with few options available locally. Both of these issues were recognized by this council three and a half years ago and by Cowichan Social Planning 12 years ago. Unfortunately, it is a challenging issue that will require multiple partnerships and a significant amount of energy and determination to resolve.”
There are many relevant issues in Lake Cowichan, she said.
In Lake Cowichan approximately 30 per cent of the residents are in rental accommodation. The town’s population grew by 8.5 per cent from 2011 to 2016. The provincial average was 5.6 per cent. In comparison, the CVRD grew by 4.2 per cent, according to March’s research.
Plus, “retirees are attracted to water. Lake Cowichan offers lake and river and country surroundings, while being in close proximity to shopping and other services. This factor will continue to push prices up.”
Lake Cowichan, having much in common with Tofino, Whistler, Orcas Island, and Banff, should adopt the idea of a community land trust to keep the community stable, March said.
Such a move would have far-reaching benefits.
To grow our tourist sector and support seniors that are here and those relocating to the area, Lake Cowichan “must have housing for people and families working in the services industries. While building permits have increased dramatically over the past two and a half years, most of the permits have been for single families homes, many on large lots. There have been approximately 22 single level market townhomes, for people over 45 and three purpose built rental apartments that will soon be available, hopefully on a year round basis.”
But “land prices continue to escalate. In my area, land prices are up at least 30 per cent in two years. Working families are getting left behind. Rental housing is being sold and/or renovated to capitalize on the hot real estate market. Tenants are moving into a market where rental housing is tight to non-existent. This puts stress on families and that stress impacts other children and our community.”
A community land trust, she explained, is an organization created to hold land for the benefit of the community and of individuals within that community in perpetuity.
Land is accumulated through grants, donations and bequests through the foundation arm of the community land trust, which would have the ability to issue tax receipts.
The formation of two societies would be needed. March said she is willing to pay herself for establishing one of them.
Types of housing could include “accessible housing for seniors, with a smaller footprint, co-op townhomes for families, a three-storey apartment building co-op, a group-home style facility for seniors with dementia, and perhaps a youth hostel that can operate as an emergency shelter in the winter.”
March said there are many tools available to municipal governments, including: “efficiently facilitating changes in the zoning bylaws, density bonusing, amenity contributions by all developers to an affordable housing fund, waiving of development cost charges for an affordable housing project; expedited permitting processes; waiving of property taxes on community land trust until construction is completed; and contributing to the community land trust through the long term lease of surplus property owned by the municipality.”
March said she thought it was “reasonable” to be requesting council’s support for this project.
“When the community land trust is fully formed, we will begin actively seeking memberships and donations and applying for grants.
“This is not a project that can be accomplished by one person. This initiative will require a dedicated board of professionals — volunteers who are willing to provide their time and expertise to bring this project to fruition. I already have legal, accounting, engineering, and grant-writing volunteers at the ready,” March said.
There are other details about forming the land trust that, since they involve certain individuals or companies that might have financial implications, would need to be discussed in camera with councillors, she said.
Councillors agreed to meet with her soon to hear more of the specifics.