Trust assessment shows home builds need to double to meet future housing demand

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, July 3 2018

The Islands Trust has completed housing needs assessments for the northern islands including Denman, Gabriola, Gambier, Hornby, Lasqueti, and Thetis islands while the Capital Regional District has supported the completion of a similar assessment for the southern Islands including Galiano, Mayne, North Pender, South Pender, and Saturna Islands. Salt Spring Island has a housing needs assessment from 2015 and Bowen Island has a housing needs assessment that was updated in 2009. With these reports complete, the Trust Council says it has housing needs assessments complete for the entire Islands Trust Area.

Nancy Hetherington Peirce, Chair of the Gabriola Housing Society Board said the Board, “welcomes the ample information and clear recommendations in the Islands Trust Report regarding housing needs on Gabriola.  With the publication of this important resource, the Board has good information to direct its efforts for providing housing that’s affordable for people with low to moderate incomes.”

Gabriola’s assessment showed the island having four key groups struggling to access appropriate, affordable, accessible and secure rental housing. These groups are:

• Low income seniors;

• Young singles;

• Families; and

• Older singles.

According to the Gabriola assessment, there are approximately 650 seniors that currently live alone. One of the assumptions made by the consultants is that over the next 10 years, these people will age to the point where they are unable to live alone and will be in need of assisted living.  

Assuming that half of these seniors remain on Gabriola, over the next 10 years they will age and begin to need special housing needs.

A more detailed breakdown of the population aged 55 and up indicates a current potential need for seniors housing that will be exacerbated as these cohorts continue to age. While Gabriola Island has proportionally fewer residents aged 55 to 59 years compared to the RDN and BC, it has a higher proportion of those in the 60 to 69 year age range. Although Gabriola has an overall greater proportion of residents aged 55 and above compared to RDN and BC, there are proportionally fewer Gabriola residents aged 80 and above. This could indicate that seniors may be ‘aging out’ of the island due to a lack of suitable housing.

While overall percentages are low, the numbers of school age children support an elementary and middle school, a fact that may attract young families moving to and staying on Gabriola, provided they can find housing. Enrollment between 165 and 170 students has been consistent over the past 10 years. The study found Gabriola Island has a much lower proportion of families with children (15.2%) than the RDN (28.2%) and BC (35.5%). In the case of lone parent families, this difference is magnified, with Gabriola Island having close to half of the proportion of lone parent families (5.1%) than the RDN (9.8%) or BC (10.5%) do.

The assessments evaluate the demographics, incomes, and housing stock in a community, allowing agencies with an interest in housing to quantify both housing need and the amount of housing stock available. The provincial government has recently recognized the importance of this form of data collection and now requires local governments to conduct housing needs assessments every five years. With many communities in the Islands Trust Area experiencing a critical shortage in affordable accommodation, they come at a crucial time.

Using census data from 2006, 2011, and 2016, the report projects Gabriola’s population growing to 5,295 by 2041, meaning 686 units or 28 units per year will need to be built to meet housing demand - with almost half (42.6%) of these units needing to be “affordable”, based on how household income is distributed on Gabriola. Over the last 10 years, there has been an increase of 145 households on Gabriola Island (a 7.3% change) - only half as many as will be needed to meet the projected needs, and none of those builds were intentionally for affordable housing.

Average tax-filer income on Gabriola Island is $62,927, which is 23% lower than the RDN average income and 43.6% lower than BC. The median income for Gabriola Island is also lower, at $47,795, 30.4% lower than the RDN median income, and 46.4% lower than BC.

Peter Luckham, Islands Trust Chair said, “The new housing needs assessments starkly illustrate the difficult housing situations that many people living in the Trust Area are currently experiencing.

“Far too many of our island neighbours have a lack of housing security, with many forced to vacate during the summer season. Others live in substandard housing with serious potential health and safety risks. Others pay unsustainable amounts – beyond the recommended maximum of 30% of their income – to have a roof over their head.”

The Bylaw Enforcement Office has indicated that there are currently 17 open files of illegal residences on Gabriola. 

Because Bylaw enforcement is by complaint only, and complaints are approximately 10% of the actual illegal activity, it is assumed that there are an additional 170 illegal housing units on the island. Some of these people are assumed to have been counted in the census (55 semi-detached houses) while others are not captured in the census due to the owners and the tenants avoiding exposure. Many of these people are employed on Gabriola Island in the service industry and often have multiple part-time jobs.

Many jobs on Gabriola are not full-time (so the employer does not have to provide benefits) and so people are forced to have multiple part-time jobs to earn a living wage. These people are also vulnerable and are often the people that are forced to move several times a year to accommodate the summer or seasonal rentals.

By quantifying housing need, housing needs assessments help governments plan and develop appropriately-scaled housing strategies. The assessments also offer the baseline evidence that affordable housing providers require when making their case for support to funders.

According to the Islands Trust, as land use authorities, local trust committees and Bowen Island Municipality control the rate and scale of development in the Trust Area. 

They do this through density and zoning decisions that balance the need for housing while respecting the limits of the natural environment. Housing needs assessments allow local trust committees and Bowen Island Municipality to make informed decisions on the amount and nature of affordable housing their community requires.