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Study highlights Queen Charlotte housing needs

A new housing report highlights lack of social and seniors housing
At an all-islands housing forum in Queen Charlotte last month, several islanders listed affordability or homelessness as their top housing concern on Haida Gwaii. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

A new report details a lack of housing options in Queen Charlotte and suggests a few solutions.

Prepared by Co+Host, a local facilitators group, the 72-page report for the Queen Charlotte Heritage Housing Society is based on census data, focus groups, a survey, and interviews with a dozen local organizations.

It was co-funded by Gwaii Trust and by BC Housing, a provincial agency that relies on such reports to plan new subsidized housing initiatives.

Mayor Greg Martin has said that housing in the village is at a “crisis point.” The report examines several reasons why.

High among them is the fact that 11 subsidized homes now owned by M’akola and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association will either go up for sale or lose their federal subsidies over the next few years, “effectively eliminating social housing from the community.”

According to the 2016 census, about 15 per cent of the 844 people in Queen Charlotte live on low incomes.

Another issue is the lack of homes built to suit Queen Charlotte’s relatively high number of seniors. Not only is there a lack of assisted living, there are few homes and hardly any apartments for seniors who want to downsize.

Housing Needs and Demand Assessment by Haida Gwaii Observer on Scribd

Looking at the local real estate market, the report found low turnover and many sales done by word-of-mouth — two factors that make it hard for newcomers to looking to buy.

In a recent Co+Host survey, slightly more people said the lack of homes for sale was a bigger barrier than lack of money.

Likewise, the report found rental housing is in short supply, with several focus-group members noting that rents have shot up in the last few years. The report highlights the nearly three dozen Airbnb rentals in the village as one factor.

About 14 per cent of Queen Charlotte households said they needed “major” home repairs at the time of the 2016 census, and more than half of the 515 homes in the village were between 40 and 60 years old.

Given aging houses and a rainy climate, some of the comments Co+Host heard from local social service workers about mould and other problems are less surprising.

“I’ve seen way more rats than I ever needed to during home visits,” said one.

“I quit my job and moved to a new role because I didn’t want to go into homes anymore,” said another.

Social service workers also said there are several youth who couch-surf in Queen Charlotte.

Though not so visible as in a big city, they said others are homeless, too. Last summer two families had to camp at Hadyn Turner Park for a time, while others sleep rough or shelter in cabins and boats without heat or running water.

Census data show about a fifth of all households in Queen Charlotte spend over 30 per cent of their income on housing — a key indicator of unaffordable housing costs.

That is higher than the B.C. average, though it’s actually lower than in Masset, where census figures show about a quarter of households spend above the 30-per-cent mark.

Masset also had a greater share of older homes, and a greater share of households who said they needed to do “major” home repairs.

Furthermore, renters in Masset tended to pay more per month, with median shelter costs of $831 compared with $717 in Queen Charlotte.

On the flip side, Masset homeowners seemed to have lower costs than those in Queen Charlotte, with a median monthly cost of $569 compared with $657.

With similar populations — 844 in Queen Charlotte and 794 in Masset — both villages seem to have housing needs of a similar scale, though the Co+Host cautions that housing is a complex issue.

Among the Queen Charlotte residents who answered the recent Co+Host survey, most said the village’s top priority should be social housing for people with low incomes. Several people in focus groups suggested a four- to 10-unit building with social supports.

Other suggestions include hiring an all-islands housing co-ordinator; building a south-end transition house to complement the women’s shelter in Masset; creating a small group home for youth; passing a village bylaw to control short-term vacation rentals; making a strategy for repairing derelict homes; and encouraging alternatives to large detached houses such as tiny homes, condos, and apartments.

Others suggested the village and local credit union offer tax and loan incentives to encourage more home building and repairs, as well as home sales that privilege long-term residents of Haida Gwaii.

When asked about the number of people struggling to find homes in Queen Charlotte, one person in the focus groups said there is will always be people who will weather such storms.

“Something drives people to stay — the people that will do whatever it takes end up slogging it out.”