An aerial view of Cortes Island’s Seniors Village. ( Photo/Bill Weaver)

Cortes Island affordable housing project hangs by a thread

Regional decision makers resort to COVID-19 concerns despite virtual meeting option and push hearing to September

The trend of delaying Cortes Island businesses on the SRD table continues.

This time it could cost the small island community, with a population of 1,000, a multi-million dollar affordable housing project amidst a housing crisis on Cortes.

Cortes Community Housing’s Rainbow Ridge project might face additional challenges after Strathcona Regional District (SRD) board postponed all public hearings for land management until September.

The public hearing requested by Cortes Island Seniors Society (CISS) for rezoning of the 22-unit rental homes proposal was rescheduled from April 30, to June 25 due to the pandemic.

However, at the board meeting held on May 27, regional directors refused to participate in any in-person public hearing citing COVID-19 concerns.

Cortes representative to SRD, Noba Anderson, stressed that the process was urgent for CISS to take forward the proposal to B.C Housing after it called for submissions May 21 onwards.

Noba volunteered to be the sole SRD director physically present at the public hearing at Mansons Hall on Cortes Island and suggested that other regional directors could join the meeting remotely.

But a suggestion to participate virtually, approved by the provincial government after the onset of the pandemic, was also declined by the regional directors on the Electoral Areas Services Committees, Brenda Leigh, Gerald Whaley and Jim Abram.

The land for Rainbow Ridge project, which CISS purchased through fundraising, is located adjacent to the Seniors Village site.

An expansion project adding four more homes to the Seniors Village received funding from B.C. Housing in 2018 and is currently under construction.

Rainbow Ridge is a further attempt by the community to add 20-22 more affordable homes for not just seniors but for families and households struggling to make ends meet on Cortes Island.

In a letter to the SRD on May 25, Elizabeth Anderson from CISS appealed to the board to “support the recommendation of SRD staff” to hold a “modified public hearing,” in June.

Elizabeth also emphasized the “extremely competitive,” nature of the funding call, given the deep need for affordable housing across B.C.

There is also no indication by B.C. Housing whether there will be a funding intake next year, placing the project at a huge risk of losing out on a chance for provincial funding.

This is not the first time that SRD has delayed Cortes projects. Last year in May, the board delayed the approval of grants-in-aid for Cortes organizations.

READ MORE: More Cortes Island business delayed at SRD table

Noba called the deferment of the public hearing “a huge disservice” to a major community effort.

“If we’re risking a multi-million, community-driven project over ill-founded health concerns and politics, it is rather unfortunate,” Noba said.

BC HousingCortes Islandmunicipal politicsseniors housing

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