The Cowichan Valley Regional District recently undertook a region-wide study, examining both the housing situation and needs of each community within the Valley.
While housing rental and sale prices in Lake Cowichan are, on average, lower than in other towns in the Valley, the affordability challenges residents face is very similar.
Rather than a gross cost for monthly rent, affordability is calculated by comparing this cost with an individual’s income. This means that while a $879 rental, the average in Lake Cowichan, would be considered affordable for a couple each earning the median income of $30,000 per year, the same rental would be considered unaffordable by a single occupant earning the same income, as living costs surpass 30 per cent of annual income. While low-income seniors are especially challenged by finding affordable rental housing, the problem surpasses the population, affecting many families as well.
Additional problems are presented for local residents, as costs related to transportation and electricity tend to be higher for those living in Lake Cowichan.
As for safety, Lake Cowichan was shown to be on par with other municipalities in the CVRD, meaning that seven per cent of homes were in need of major repairs in order to live up to safety standards, with surveyed residents reporting issues with mould and poor insulation.
Ensuring that all rental units live up to safety standards, though, also carries the chance of increasing affordability issues. Particularly in the case of more extensive repairs, a high investment could be necessary to ensure the building lives up to safety standards. If the Town of Lake Cowichan were to implement a Standards of Maintenance bylaw, they could run the risk of only making the situation worse for low-income residents.
“Ultimately, it would be up to the municipality to decide whether or not to adopt a bylaw and how prescriptive such a bylaw should be,” Ann Kjerulf, senior planner for the CVRD, said. “This should be determined through a public consultation process and discussion with perhaps tenants and landlords within the community.”
Currently, according to the CVRD Housing Report, there are 16 families in Lake Cowichan receiving rental assistance.
Both the Town of Lake Cowichan and the CVRD, as well as all other municipalities in the Valley, have made steps towards making housing more affordable through the use of community plans and zoning bylaws. Local governments have also worked to support Social Planning Cowichan and the Regional Affordable Housing Directorate, which provides “ready-to-rent” classes for tenants, rental asistance to families facing eviction and advocacy on behalf of the region’s homeless population.
The next step for the Town of Lake Cowichan, said Kjerulf, would be to establish a Housing Action Plan — a a strategy to address Lake Cowichan’s housing gaps and needs.These plans typically identify specific opportunities for affordable housing, such as land owned by local government that could be developed into affordable housing.