This week, our local CBC radio show “On the Island,” with host Gregor Craigie, did an interview with a community leader who works for the San Juan Island Housing Trust in Washington State.
The Trust is committed to providing affordable and attainable housing by creating a neighbourhood of recycled homes that come from other communities.
Always interested in hearing about new and innovative ideas for accessible housing, my ears really perked up when the guest described three recent additions to their affordable neighbourhood project on San Juan Island, located less than 35 kilometers south of the shores of Oak Bay as the crow flies. “These are older homes from Oak Bay that were barged by Nickel Brothers to us on San Juan Island…they will be restored and transformed into affordable homes that we will sell at below market prices.”
The guest went on to explain that this housing project is possible in part because of a benefactor who donated land and a subsequent partnership between the housing Trust and local authorities. Designed to address the needs of lower, fixed and middle income earners living on San Juan Island, this initiative will help remove barriers to home ownership, especially in a market that is over-priced and climbing, not unlike our own local housing market.
As a former Oak Bay Council member and Council liaison to the CRD’s Regional Housing Trust Fund (and now as an Oak Bay Heritage Commission member), I share concerns of many of Oak Bay’s residents about the lack of accessible housing options and loss of older homes in this community, suitable houses that are either demolished to make way for new, more expensive homes or those purchased by Nickel Brothers and moved, as in the case of San Juan Island, to other communities and re-purposed.
In a recent announcement by the Mayor of Oak Bay, we learned that the municipality will be conducting an assessment of approximately 21 municipal sites (public buildings and lands) for potential seismic upgrading, re-purposing and/or replacement. So here is a radical thought — why not use this process as a golden opportunity for Oak Bay Council, to explore planning options on public land for a small neighbourhood of attainable housing, using our very own re-cycled older homes?
Such innovation could involve but is not limited to:
- consulting/planning with our local community and the Capital Regional District’s Regional Housing Trust Fund body;
- costing to include other government grants and related public funding;
- re-zoning a piece of appropriate public land; and
- identifying, re-locating and re-purposing Oak Bay houses slated for demolition.
Oak Bay residents told us during the 2013 Heritage Strategic Plan survey that above anything else, they value Oak Bay’s streetscapes and character neighbourhoods — this type of project would preserve and respect both of these important community values.
I have always believed that “where there’s a [political] will, there’s a way.” If the community and local government of Oak Bay get behind such a project, anything is possible. If San Juan Island can do it, so can we.