Some find nothing to rent, or no way to pay the rent on a fixed income.
A few are homeless, and several homes are abandoned.
At the same time Haida Gwaii has oceanfront property listed for less than half the price of a typical bachelor suite in Vancouver, changes in tourism and affordable housing programs are making it harder for some islanders to find homes they can afford.
“Housing is such a hot topic right now, in every community,” says Kimberley Claggett, a member of the non-profit Queen Charlotte Heritage Housing Society.
The society recently commissioned a report on the need for affordable housing in Queen Charlotte, where local leaders warn of a serious lack of rental housing in particular. An online affordable housing survey is now available for village residents.
But on April 7, the society is also hosting an all-islands housing forum.
“It’s not just us,” Claggett said.
Housing was a key issue during the Old Massett council election in December.
In Masset, as in Queen Charlotte, a local non-profit housing society is bracing for the end of a federal housing subsidy.
Another two housing providers based off-island — M’akola Housing Society and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AMHA) — have had to sell or raise rents at their Queen Charlotte properties for the same reason. According to the 2016 census, one third of Queen Charlotte renters relied on some form of housing subsidy, compared with 12.5 per cent across the province.
Last year, a dozen single people and three families told the Islands Wellness Society they were struggling to find housing on island. Three more people with fixed incomes had to leave Haida Gwaii for lack of options.
Claggett said it’s a complex issue, but it first came to her attention a few years ago when friends lost their rentals as more were booked for summer tourists.
“Airbnb plays a huge role, at least in Queen Charlotte,” she said.
“People need to survive in the new tourism economy. And the tourists need places to stay — that’s the other side of it. The hotels are full.”
Greg Martin, the mayor of Queen Charlotte, agrees the growing popularity of Airbnb-style rentals is part of the issue.
“We’re still struggling with Airbnb stuff,” Martin said.
“Whenever it moves rental housing units from the inventory, it’s a problem, but it probably is a Charter of Rights issue. How can you infringe on a citizen’s right to do what they want with their property?”
Martin noted that council decided to delay a revision of the village zoning bylaw until after the all-islands forum and Queen Charlotte housing report.
Claggett said the effect of growing summer tourism and vacation homes is only part of the picture. Another is the relative lack of multi-unit buildings on island.
“I’m starting to hear from people who are in their late working years — they’d like to downsize, but there’s nothing really here,” she said, adding that life leases and co-operative housing may be part of the solution. The Queen Charlotte Heritage Housing Society is also hoping to convert what is now an empty office building into residential apartments.
Supported by Gwaii Trust and BC Housing, the April 7 forum at the Queen Charlotte Community Hall forum will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and lunch will be provided. The forum is open to anyone interested in housing on Haida Gwaii: tenants and landlords, homeowners, non-profit societies, builders, contractors, and community leaders.
However islanders decide to tackle the issue, they won’t be alone in recognizing that affordable housing is a problem.
In February, B.C.’s new NDP government tabled a budget that includes a vacant-homes tax, more rental assistance for low-income families, and a way to give municipalities the ability to create rental-housing zones. There is also $1.6 billion earmarked for new social housing units over the next three years.
In the federal budget, the Liberal government increased funding for low-cost loans that support builders of new rental housing, a move expected to spur construction of 14,000 new rental units across the country.