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Bowen exploring worker housing pilot project

RV's and trailers could be potential options for seasonal workers

In an effort to address one of the specific housing questions facing Bowen – spaces for temporary and seasonal workers – the municipality is looking to a Vancouver Island community to see if they might hold the answer.

Ucluelet – faced with the same problem of temporary worker influx and not enough homes – introduced a pilot project last year fast tracking the use of temporary use permits (TUP), and allowing the use of campsites for seasonal dwellings in recreational vehicles or trailers for up to six months.

Under this model, the TUP can only be used to house seasonal workers. It’s not necessary for the owner of the land to own the RV; they can lease their space to a worker with an RV, or a business providing one for a worker.

The applicant is also responsible for proving there’s a plan for sewage discharge, such as a holding tank and pump-out strategy. While there’s currently no pump-out options on Bowen, chief administrative officer Liam Edwards says some sort of solution such as a pump truck could potentially be worked out.

Bowen’s Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) is wondering if a similar approach could work here, highlighting seasonal worker housing needs as a key point of the group’s recent Housing Targets Report.

The committee endorsed exploring the idea in March and this week Coun. Maureen Nicholson asked for council to direct staff to prepare a report on how the project went in Ucluelet, and its prospects for success on Bowen.

Councillors expressed interest in the project but had plenty of questions. Coun. Sue Ellen Fast wondered how the establishment of permanent encampments could be avoided, noting that local campgrounds are currently only available for foot and bike traffic.

“I’m really sympathetic, we’ve got a housing crisis, however we also have an official community plan that is very specific that campgrounds for recreational vehicles and trailer parks should not be permitted within the municipality,” says Fast.

Edwards agreed it may be hard to get people to move on after six months was up, and enforcing this could put a strain on staff. Coun. Alison Morse also brought up the extra work researching the program will put on the planning department in the first place. “What are we going to tell them to not do while they do this?” she asked.

Speaking for the planning department, manager Daniel Martin says the six-month time limit would have to be stressed in advance. Bowen’s current time limit for RV living is three months.

Martin adds this won’t address another of Bowen’s pressing housing problems – lack of long-term family housing – but said he’s interested to see how things went in Ucluelet.

Nicholson stressed with issues such as housing where solutions take a long time to implement, it’s important to pass something tangible when given the opportunity. “Given the pace at which we sometimes move, if we launch this today, it might be in place for next summer,” says Nicholson.

“If we’re genuinely trying to find different housing solutions for different groups on Bowen, this is a fairly specific group (seasonal workers) that needs to be met… This is pretty simple. This is finding out information about what another community has done, and what they’ve learned,” she says.

Mayor Gary Ander agreed something needs to be done. “There’s no question that we have to look for different types of accommodation on the island… right from trailers to side-by-sides to whatever. We have to change the way we live on Bowen.”

“The party’s over as far as that’s concerned. If you want any income diversity on this island… you’re going to have to have a lower cost of housing,” says Ander.

But the mayor, along with other councillors, worried HAC’s request to prepare a staff report was premature, and the municipality should gather more information about how things worked in Ucluelet first. With only Nicholson in opposition (maintaining the municipality should move straight to the report stage), an amendment was passed to first find out more about the project before preparing a report on its possibility on Bowen.

The revised motion to contact Ucluelet as a first step to learn more was then passed unanimously.