The housing shortage on the west coast is making it difficult for Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (TFN) members to return to their homelands, leaving some on a housing waitlist for up to 20 years, said TFN Tribal Administrator Jim Chisholm.
Houses within the Tla-o-qui-aht communities of Ty-Histanis, Esowista and Opitsaht are becoming increasingly overcrowded, as many can’t afford the cost of real estate or rent in the area.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” said Chisholm.
Even if the nation wanted to hire a contractor to build new houses, he said there’s no facility for them to stay in.
“We have to put [contractors] up in hotels that are $500 a night in peak season,” he said. “Which just drives our building costs up. We’re in a real dilemma out here.”
It’s a collective problem between Tofino and Ucluelet, he said.
“It’s really catching up on the entire area,” he added.
The median cost of a one-bedroom rental unit in Tofino and Ucluelet rose by 71 per cent between 2017 and 2020 to $1,200, according to the 2021 Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s (CBT) Vital Snapshot report. Two-bedroom units saw an increase of 6 per cent to $1,480, and three-bedroom units surged by 38 per cent to $2,200.
Meanwhile, the assessed value of a single-family residential home in Tofino increased by 25 per cent between 2019 and 2021 to $956,000.
In a move to address the issue, the Tofino Housing Corporation (THC) is nearing completion of a 14-unit affordable housing project at 700 Sharp Road, entitled Creekside.
Partnering with Catalyst Community Developments Society, four one-bedroom units, four two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units will soon be available for rent.
Applications are currently being accepted until January 1 for the April 2022 move-in date.
“We’ve been desperate for housing in Tofino for so long,” said Ian Scott, THC interim executive director. “There’s a real lack of options for people and it’s been like that for years, and years, and years.”
Priority will be given to tenants who do not own real estate, meet income requirements, have been living in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District for 24 of the last 36 months, have been working full-time for more than one year within the District of Tofino, Island Health, BC Parks, or Parks Canada, receive disability assistance, or are a senior.
The accessible units will be reserved for applicants with physical disabilities, however, if no one with a physical disability applies within the designated time frame, the units may be rented to other households.
The one-bedroom units will be renting from $854 up to $1,100 per month, the two-bedroom units will be priced between $1,080 and $1,550, and the three-bedroom units will cost between $1,200 and $1,703.
Tenants with dependents will be placed in the multi-bedroom units, while singles and couples will be assigned to the one-bedroom units.
The only case in which singles may be paired together is if there weren’t enough households to fill the multi-bedroom units, Scott said.
Applicants will be selected at random, so everyone has a fair shot, he added.
“Hopefully we mostly serve households who are really in need,” Scott said.
Ultimately, the units will likely host a mix of people who are looking to upgrade from their current living situation, and those who “really, really need a place,” said Scott.
The region’s living wage was the highest in all of B.C. in 2019. The CBT determined that each parent must earn at least $19.63 to cover the basic expenses for an average family of four. Few people earn this wage. In fact, more than half of the region’s population earns below $31,000, and over 16 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men earn less than $10,000 each year.
The THC is also working on another affordable housing project titled Headwaters, which is being built on District Lot 114 in two phases.
Construction of the first apartment building, Headwaters North, has begun and Scott said the application process is anticipated to begin in February 2022. The 35-unit complex will contain a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units, and will follow a similar application process to the Creekside development.
The BC Housing Community Housing Fund is providing a grant of around $7.7 million towards the Headwaters project, as well as an ongoing operating subsidy.
“Twenty per cent of the units will be affordable to those on fixed incomes or social assistance, 50 per cent of the units will have rents fixed to 30 per cent of household income and generally eligible to those making between approximately $25,000 and $65,000, and 30 per cent of the units will be affordable market units with rents ranging between approximately $900 and $2,000, depending on unit size,” the Tofino Housing Corporation website reads.
In addition to building affordable rentals, the THC has plans to develop 30 below-market units for purchase by 2030.
Despite these moves, Chisholm said that B.C. construction costs are “prohibitive” and that there’s “no solution that's on the immediate horizon.”
“We're working with the government on some new housing projects,” he said. “But at this point, we have nothing to report.”