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Bowen housing committee says at least 30 rental units needed immediately

Bowen in need of dozens of new available homes this year
Bowen Island Municipality sign

Thirty new homes are needed to satisfy the demand for people currently looking to rent on Bowen Island, according to estimates from the Housing Advisory Committee (HAC).

And that number is a low estimate, the group adds. Anecdotally speaking they say this is likely a minimum, a position backed up by conversations in the community and posts on local online groups which show many people are currently looking for a place to rent.

By 2026 they estimate the number of necessary new units to grow to 45, jumping to 60 by 2030.

The rental topic is top of the list on the group’s Housing Targets Report (HTR), which identifies eight areas of recommendation to address various housing issues on Bowen. Robyn Fenton, HAC chair, told council May 9 that along with temporary worker housing, these are the two most pressing areas in the report.

A pilot project underway in Ucluelet which involves loosening the rules around living in RV’s or trailers is being investigated to address the temporary worker issue.

As for rentals, the demand is immediate but the supply is not. This isn’t a new problem either. Much of the HAC’s report was guided by a 2020 Housing Needs Report (HNR), which outlined similar issues back in 2016.

The Undercurrent ran a story that year which highlighted 26 people competing for one rental unit. This year, in conversations HAC had with Rob Purdy, one of the owners of the new apartment complex, he estimated another 30 to 50 apartments could be filled by prospective renters. This number is on top of the 27 units in the current building.

Candy Ho, CEO of The Cape on Bowen, also gave an estimate of 30 new units necessary to meet demand.

Both availability and affordability working against renters

According to the HAC, around 81 rental units – including detached and secondary suites along with the apartments – have come available on Bowen since 2016. But this has failed to keep up with the amount of people searching for a home.

The report also found most employed people who rent on Bowen – around two-thirds – also work on Bowen, outlining the group most in need of rental units. HAC found the opposite true for employed island homeowners – two-thirds of this group works off-island.

“The conversation tonight tracks the dichotomy,” said Coun. Michael Kaile following Fenton’s presentation. “We’ve talked somewhat exhaustively; we’re going to support, enable, incentivize, conduct further, identify… (that) doesn’t provide homes for 35 groups of people who are urgently looking for accommodation.”

“Sleeping rough in the woods is not part of the official community plan either.”

“There’s just too many words which suggest another meeting. Anybody listening to us with an urgent problem which starts in August would just raise their hands in despair,” says Kaile.

Coun. Sue Ellen Fast added the official community plan approach to housing issues may need reviewing.

And even when and if homes become available, affordability remains a major barrier. “Rental housing is so expensive,” says Mayor Gary Ander. “People can’t afford to be paying $2,200 for a one bedroom.”

Ander says the high rents are a combination of the high costs of building on Bowen, and owners’ knowledge that they can get market value on Bowen Island.

Fenton says the affordability factor is one the HAC hopes to address by pursuing a goal of 50 per cent of new rentals at below market value. Data in the HNR showed in 2016, 120 renters (45 per cent of Bowen’s rental total) were spending more than 30 per cent of income on rent, and 15 renters were over 50 per cent.

Council accepted the target of 30 new rental units for this year, as well as the other seven recommends in the report, unanimously.

The task now turns to implementing them in a timely fashion. Some preliminary suggestions included looking at trailer options, or talking to owners of unused or underutilized spaces to see if they may be interested in renting their properties.