Let’s talk about Housing

We are currently at a crossroads. We need to decide what future we want for our community.

We can decide to work together to make our community a place that both attracts young people and families and a vibrant labour force AND retains its long-term residents. A place that works together to protect our natural environment while ensuring a vibrant mix of people of all socioeconomic backgrounds continue to call here home. A place where local businesses thrive, rejuvenated by passionate new residents, all while satisfying our desire for an independent lifestyle.

Or we can decide to sit back and let market forces, and decisions made by others, decide the fate of our Islands and who can afford to live here.

We are so fortunate to live in one of the most desirable places in Canada.

With our mild climate, world-class natural beauty, abundance of recreational opportunities, strong community spirit, impressive community infrastructure, and enviable rural atmosphere, all just a short ferry ride away from urban amenities, Quadra is a singular place to live. All this, however, will ensure a long list of people will be lining up to call this island home.

We need only look at islands such as Bowen or Salt Spring to understand what happens to desirable places when a tidal wave of demand overwhelms a community. Rental units and homes for sale become more expensive, and some long-term residents are priced out of the market and have to leave. Most of us can name friends, including active and engaged islanders, who have recently lost their homes and have not been able to find a new one here. Every person, every family we lose due to a lack of appropriate affordable housing takes a little away from the character and independence of this place we call home. Communities lose their personality, their people, their services, and even their businesses when housing becomes unaffordable for those with low or middle incomes.

The Strathcona Regional District recently completed a housing needs report for Area C. The report goes into great detail about where we are and where we are going in terms of our population and the state of housing here. Unfortunately, the news isn’t great. You can find the report HERE.

A Path Forward

I don’t think the Regional Director operating in isolation, or with a few hand-picked advisors, nor any branch of the SRD, should dictate how we confront the housing challenge or any other challenge we face.

Rather, I believe it is up to us as a community to decide what we want for our future. It is up to us to create or enhance democratic community-based organizations that can engage residents, access expertise, and determine the solutions we need. It is up to us to decide whether we want to maintain and enhance the independent community we know, in every way that we can; or to choose to let others decide our path for us.

The Regional Director’s role is to show leadership on this issue. To educate, engage and empower community to chart our own course. To listen to the voice of the community as developed through the most democratic means we can muster.

I know that it will take time and effort to develop a democratic community voice. And the community will need to do the work required to build and maintain the institution that will enable it. But I firmly believe that it will be worth it. Because the voice of the community should not only be expressed through ad-hoc committees or one-off town halls, where we only react to the most recent crisis, where the most vocal or opinionated among us get heard. This is not democracy and does not result in the best solutions.

We can do better.

A community’s housing diversity needs to mirror the diversity of its people and its vision for the future.

To achieve this goal, a lot of out-of-the-box thinking and learning from others is going to be required. Creative, cooperative, or agriculturally based models for housing need to be examined.

If any community is equipped to come together and define its own future, it is ours.

An abbreviated version of this article was published in the Bird’s Eye on September 7, 2022.