a tiny kitchen with stairs leading up to a lofty

The December 2nd Housing Forum at Mansons Hall

Editor’s note: the time for this event has been changed to 9:30, as now written below.

The Cortes Community Housing Society and Regional Director Mark Vonesch will be teaming up to hold a Housing Forum at Mansons Hall from 9:30 AM to 12:00 on December 2nd. 

“Cortes is a very innovative community. We have an incredible ‘can do’ resilient spirit on this island and have done amazing things. I do think that Cortes could be a real leader for the province, and the country, around rural housing solutions. With the resources and the ingenuity, the land, the partnerships, I think we can do some amazing things here on Cortes,” explained Sadhu Johnston, Executive Director of the Cortes Community Housing Society. 

Image credit: Sadhu Johnston – submitted photo

“Even buying the 50 acres at Rainbow Ridge and having it owned by the community in our central population hub on the island, is a really significant step forward. Now we want to put more housing there and we want to create opportunities for  community members to build housing elsewhere on the island.” 

“We can solve this, and I think we need to do it quickly because  many more people are discovering Cortes and are moving here.  We need to work as a community to quickly ensure that the people already here are adequately housed, that we find solutions to support them to stay here, or the very fabric of our community  is at risk.” 

Cortes Currents: Define quickly.

Sadhu Johnston: “We need to make some moves in the next few years and I think it’s a variety of solutions. I don’t think it’s one thing.” 

“The purpose of  the housing forum is really to have an opportunity to hear from the Cortes community and what their priorities are for housing?” 

“I‘m new in the role as Executive Director of the Cortes Housing Society and really feel that it is important, right as I start in this role, to hear what people’s ideas and their priorities are. I thought, what better way to do it than to bring everyone together so we can hear them as a community.”

“We just wanted to have a couple of hours and raise some of the ideas that I’ve heard floating around the community and give people an opportunity to comment on them. I want to hear where people are at, what their concerns are, what their experiences are with housing, what their ideas are for solutions.”

“In the months ahead, I want to develop a housing action plan for our community where I can articulate what I’ve heard, what I’ve seen, and where the board is at with the Housing Society. I want to draw up a roadmap for the things that we want to work on as a society, things that we want to advocate for, and ultimately reflect back to the community what we heard and to make sure that we’re prioritizing the right things. 

Cortes Currents: What kind of ideas have you been hearing?

Sadhu Johnston: “I’ve been hearing a lot about people’s interests in understanding the zoning, and what they’re allowed to do. What can the size of a second house be? What are the regulations for that?  How can they change them? I’ve heard a lot of ideas for changing land use regulations to accommodate more housing on the island to allow people that have 10 acres to put more housing on their property without having to go through a rezoning.”

“I’ve heard a lot of people talking about that, and how it would enable them to pay their mortgage. I’ve heard a lot about tiny homes and people asked: Am I allowed to put them on my property? And how many? And what are the rules about that? Can we do a tiny home village?”

“I’ve heard a lot of people interested in affordable home ownership. Are there things that we could do to make land available for people who don’t have a million dollars to buy 10 acres? What about buying one acre and putting a tiny home on it? Or people building their own homes?”

“How would we make  home ownership something that’s viable? I’ve heard a lot from people that own land, but don’t have adequate housing on it. Or they’ve got a house that doesn’t have water, or isn’t insulated. “There seems to be strong interest from people that are barely making ends meet and are living in pretty substandard housing.  They may own the land and be paying the taxes, but may not be able to have a good, safe accommodation on that property. People interested in doing energy retrofits or upgrading their own homes to be more livable.”

“Lots of folks can’t find anything to rent, let alone any affordable rentals.”

“I’ve heard from a few people that they might have a second house on their property or a cabin, but they’re nervous about renting it out because they have heard that it can be really challenging to have tenants. Or that they would end up with a tenant who wouldn’t leave, or who they would have to pay to leave if there was a problem.” 

“I’ve heard from folks that have built accommodations like a tiny home on other people’s land, and they don’t feel secure. They’d love to have a place to put their home where they know they could  stay for awhile: either a longer term secured rental location, or affordable land that they could move on to.”

Cortes Currents: According to census data, Cortes Island’s population is growing. There were 1,035 residents in 2016 and 1,100 in 2021. Do you have any comments about that 5% growth?  

Sadhu Johnston: “This is just my personal opinion, we’re not in a position to welcome many more people to Cortes. We have lots of people that are on Cortes that need housing. I have heard from employers on the island that they have a hard time attracting summer employees because housing is an issue when our summer population grows so much.”

The Gorge, Natural Food Co-op, Hollyhock and many others are trying to find employees, and housing those employees for the summer is a real challenge. Then those employees might be competing for housing with permanent residents who are here. I do think we need to be thinking about more temporary summer accommodations as well for temporary workers, as we’re thinking about permanent housing for year-round Cortesians. At this point,  I don’t see a reason to try to attract many more people to move to Cortes, but I’d like to work toward ensuring that the people that are on Cortes have secure, healthy and affordable housing.”

This is the first part of an interview with Sadhu Johnston about the Housing Forum coming to Mansons Hall on Dec 2, 2023. Sadhu also had a couple of suggestions for the SRD, which are being held back until tomorrow when we are joined by Regional Director Mark Vonesch for the conclusion of this story

Top image credit: Interior of a tiny home Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash 

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