The Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) has seen a dramatic increase in the cost of housing in the last year and is on track to fall behind on new housing units. Dr. Shelley Cook, executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association (CHA), presented an annual report to Ladysmith town council on Oct. 19. She said the rising costs of both renting and purchasing homes are a large concern in the region.
“This is having a dramatic impact on so many people, but most particularly we are hearing from first-time homebuyers that are finding it incredibly difficult to get into the market,” she said.
The CHA administers the Regional Housing Service, which last year delivered $500,000 for projects in Ladysmith, Lake Cowichan and Duncan, leading to 452 units of affordable housing. A housing needs assessment says the CVRD needs 4,955 units by 2025, but is on track to fall behind by 569 units each year. Over 20 per cent of residents live in core housing need — meaning more than 30 per cent of their household income is spent on housing, according to the assessment.
Though it can have a larger impact on people with low incomes, Cook said the housing problem has a broad impact throughout communities.
At the start of the pandemic, the association saw an increase in concern for the unhoused population, “specifically around access to service and ability to self isolate,” according to Cook.
COVID-19 response funds made up 84 per cent of the association’s funds for 2020–21, which was used for projects such as cabins for temporary housing.
“Our total budget was just shy of two million dollars,” Cook said. “So we brought in over just over $1.7 million in additional funding to our region over and above the regional housing service funding.”
In 2020, the CHA identified roughly 129 individuals experiencing homelessness and more than 270 on a waitlist for supportive housing in the Cowichan Valley.
Cook said she wants to encourage municipal governments to identify and acquire all available land for affordable housing projects. The CHA identified lack of available land as an emerging issue. She also pointed out an increase in the number of people living in non-standard housing situations, such as RVs, and encouraged people to recognize this is the only option for many people.
Other concerns include the conclusion of COVID-19 specific housing programs; vacation rentals limiting long-term options for renters; an ageing rental stock and renovations displacing tenants.