old logging path through a forest

A Property For Cortes Island’s New Land Trust & Other Housing Alternatives

Cortes Community Housing purchased a property with two houses at 671 Sutil Point Road. This will be the first property to go into the island’s new land trust, formed in response to Cortes Island’s housing forum last December. 

“The housing society has been active on Cortes for 6 or 7 years and made a lot of progress in buying Rainbow Ridge. Having that acreage for housing and community needs is a really great opportunity and sets us apart in many ways from some of our other island neighbors like Quadra, for instance, where they’re working to acquire land,” explained Sadhu Johnston, Executive Director of Cortes Community Housing. 

Tiny House in the woods by Laura LaVoie via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

“We’ve been struggling to get BC Housing funding to build on that land and  we recently heard we weren’t successful. That’s the 3rd time we had applied. We did get $100,000 from BC Housing to continue to get the project shovel ready. So they’re not abandoning us, they’re just not ready to fund it.” 

“They’re really prioritizing cities. I think 80% to 90% of the funding from the last round of BC Housing funding that was designated for the Vancouver Island region went to Victoria.” 

“We cannot rely on provincial support to solve this problem here. We need it, but it’s been years of trying to get it. We really are needing to diversify our approach,  both on Rainbow Ridge land, but also across the community.” 

“We are continuing to progress the 24 townhome development on Rainbow Ridge and we just received funding from the SRD to build the road into the development site.”

“We’re looking at creative ways that we can still bring housing to the Rainbow Ridge land even if it’s not subsidized housing, if it’s more of a rental housing option.”

“We’ve been seeing across the islands and in other communities, some pretty innovative ways to do that that don’t involve us necessarily building the housing. We’ve heard loud and clear from people that they are looking for access to land. They can build their own homes, not everybody but some people, and that’s the model that has been successful in other communities.”

“On May 18th, we’re hosting a forum where we will learn from a few other communities about how they’ve been doing that land trusts and community land trusts. One of the ways that they’ve been building housing is with people building their own homes  and we have a lot of people on Cortes that have that capability.”

“So we’re looking at an area of Rainbow Ridge where we might be able to make  quarter acre lots available to people to build their own homes. They could lease that land from us, so we take away that hurdle of really high land prices on Cortes. The land is owned by the community through the Cortes Community Housing Society.”

“Those are the priorities that we’re exploring. At the same time, seeing that the housing challenges are getting worse on Cortes. Land prices are continuing to go up. We really need  to start working on providing housing as soon as possible.” 

“What we’re calling  the Cortes Community Land Trust aims to buy existing properties that already have housing on them that we can  rent out and make available for community housing.” 

“We are purchasing our first home, thanks to the generous donation of 1 of our Cortes neighbors.  That property is about 3 acres and it has 2 houses on it. It has a well, it has septic, it has power backup systems. It has beautiful gardens, and a big shop.” 

“I’m personally really excited by this opportunity because we get to provide rental housing immediately, but there’s also the opportunity for other community uses with the shop and the agricultural land. It’s a very centrally located. It’s a walkable site. People can walk straight into Manson’s, to the school, or to Smelt Bay and Manson’s Lagoon.”

“We have over 200 people on our wait list. So we’re going to put a call out and then,  if we don’t get interest from that, we’ll go more broadly to the community.” 

“Having secure rental housing Is really important for people that often have to move over and over and over again.” 

“That’s the basic objective. We get to provide housing for people that need it. We get to maintain community ownership in the land.  This land will be owned by all of us as a community and over time, we could even add additional cabins to the land to provide more housing.  That would be something that we’ll be looking to do.” 

“The objective is also to ensure that as houses come up for sale,  they aren’t just sold to off-Islanders for summer housing, that we maintain existing homes for community use and for housing people on the Island,  not just bringing new people to the Island or converting those family homes to summer houses for off Islanders.” 

Cortes Currents: Is there any way to leverage our existing relationship with the SRD to somehow make it easier to purchase  more land? 

“Yes, we have been in discussions with the SRD about this model because many other communities are experiencing the same challenges that we’re facing. High labor costs and high costs for getting materials means that new construction is very expensive here.  A lot of other communities are losing year round family housing.  This solution addresses a number of challenges that we’re facing on Cortes, but that other communities are facing as well.  In our discussions with the SRD, it seems they really recognize this is a good possible solution that we could replicate across the island.  We  would like to explore, particularly this new housing service that the SRD has launched.  We’ve discussed with them that this could be a way to invest some of those resources on Cortes.” 

“We’ll be looking for other properties to purchase using the same model.  If we could buy 5 or 10 properties like this over the next 5 years and we could accommodate 10 people on each site, we could be housing up to 10 percent of the year round population that are often moving from rental to rental, or that are in substandard housing circumstances. I really think this could be a model for our community and  an opportunity to create  community, not just housing. By having people living together like this, they can share resources. It could be multi-generational, so elderly people living  in community with younger people, sharing the obligations  of main maintaining landscapes or farming together, gardening together, that kind of thing.” 

“We’ll go more broadly to the community and, encourage people: 

  • If they are seeking housing to get on our website and sign onto our wait list. 
  • If they are thinking of selling their property and would like to have it be an ongoing community asset for housing Cortes community members, we’d love to talk  to them before they put the house on the market to see if there’s a way that we could work together to make something happen.

“This is, I hope, the beginning of using this approach to ensure that housing remains housing for families on Cortes.”

On May 18th, we’re doing this learning forum with Lopez Island and Orcas Island, where they have fully established community land trusts. Some of them are off grid. Some of them have been built by community members. They’re beautiful and sustainable and very community oriented, walkable.  Some have community agriculture as well. 

It’s just a really exciting opportunity to learn from other places  that are a decade ahead of us. We want to learn from other places how they’re creating community housing.  It’s on Zoom. It’s May 18th,10 to noon. Really encourage people to join us to share their thoughts with us about how we can do this on Cortes, but also to learn from other places. 

Links of Interest:

Top image credit: part of the existing Rainbow Ridge trail system – Roy L Hales photo

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