FAQs

The AHWG featured the following list of Frequently Asked Questions, collected at the open houses and in discussions with residents.

What is affordable housing?
(See article, Defining Affordable Housing)
One definition of affordable housing is housing that costs 30% or less of a household’s income. According to the Bowen Island Needs Assessment, in 2006 the median household income was $74,000. However, an annual income of $85,000 – $100,000 was needed to purchase an entry level home on Bowen, based on the median price of $613,000. Thus, there is a significant gap in housing (of $348,000 in 2006 dollars) for those who cannot afford to purchase a home at market prices.
Affordable housing may also refer to residential dwelling units that are rented or sold at a price that is not set by market forces but established and controlled over time by some other means.

What is “perpetually” affordable housing?
On Bowen, it could be housing that may only be owned or rented under the terms of housing covenants registered on title in favour of the Bowen Island Municipality.
Affordable housing is housing that is produced and delivered below market price, but does not require a significant cash subsidy or any ongoing subsidy to operate. This is generally achieved by finding land that is available at little or no cost, and producing housing efficiently and then renting or re-selling that housing to recover the cost of production.
The target cost of producing this housing on Bowen will be in the order of $200 – $235 per square foot. Affordable housing is not the same as social housing, which is housing that is subsidized, usually by government income support programs. Affordable housing is non-market housing that is built either privately or through a non-profit organization, is more affordable than market housing, but does not receive ongoing government funding.
“Perpetually” affordable housing – housing that is affordable forever not just for a period of time. For example, purchasers would buy a starter home at below market prices. When they wish to sell, they must do so at a price set by a formula determined at the outset, usually related to inflation. A legal mechanism is in place to ensure that the units are protected from market price increases, thereby ensuring that this housing remains an important community resource.

Why do we need affordable housing on Bowen Island?
Bowen Island is a community whose population reflects a mix of lifestyles and incomes. Rapid housing price increases are raising concerns that Bowen is in danger of losing its valued diversity and character, becoming accessible only to high-income groups. Artists, seniors and those with low-to-moderate incomes are leaving because of lack of suitable affordable housing. As well, the business community is finding it harder and harder to attract and maintain staff who cannot secure a place to live. This is taking a toll on the local economy. Like other communities who are finding themselves in similar circumstances, Bowen is taking action to respond to the crisis.
A diversity of housing styles and types will help maintain Bowen’s cultural, social and economic fabric. Many people who came to the Island years ago were seeking an alternative lifestyle. Thirty years ago, a person could build a cabin and live with a low/modest income. Bowen Island offered a rural lifestyle and a strong community where people cared for each other and participated in community events. There has always been a strong artistic and social culture. It should be possible to house people with a range of incomes, including single parents, artists, seniors, older people who have lived on the Island for many years and young people who grew up on the Island. As house prices on Bowen have escalated, its socio-economic diversity has been threatened. Increasing numbers of people with low and modest incomes are leaving the Island because of the lack of affordable housing options. At the same time, people with higher incomes are moving to Bowen Island, transforming it to “another wealthy waterfront community.”
It used to be that a housing market would include a range of houses offered for sale at varying prices. But today, there are few low-to-mid range prices in real estate.
People come to Bowen and stay because of the strong community here. People with limited means contribute most to community, usually families with kids. If you lose young families with kids, it is a big loss of community involvement, volunteerism, energy, etc.

Is there any affordable housing on the island now?
There is some, but very little. This includes a few apartments and town homes, a total of 38 dwellings. On Bowen, 91% of the housing stock is comprised of single family homes, none that would be classified as affordable. Cates Hill offers rental housing consisting of 26 multi-family units in several buildings that rent for 15% below market rent. These units were created through a rezoning process with a private developer and are protected for 25 years as rental accommodation.

What about co-operative housing?
There is one co-operative housing project on Bowen Island serving seniors age 55 and over. Called Bowen Court Co-op, it consists of 18 one-bedroom units plus a caretaker’s unit. At this time, there are 30 applicants on the waiting list; however, the Board is currently reviewing the wait list to determine the number of applications that are still active. The building managers have stopped taking new applications. Applicants under age 55 are turned away.

What about other types of affordable housing?
A proposed Abbeyfield project that will provide housing for seniors is underway. It includes some affordable housing units and is maintaining a list of interested people, but does not have a waiting list at this time.
Other potential affordable housing projects have been proposed by developers on the island including Greenways West, Belterra, King Edward Bay and Cape Roger Curtis.

Will social housing be available on Bowen?
While the intent is to integrate some social housing into the delivery of affordable housing on Bowen, the initial focus will be on the bulk of the need. That is, people who can pay for housing and want to secure a home, whether through purchase or rental agreement will be first served. However, it is expected that once established, the housing corporation will take the lead in managing the social housing segment. With assistance and support from private and public programs, this will include subsidized housing for people with disabilities, or for those that require special housing or support, from homeless individuals to single parent families to seniors housing.

What municipal policies or bylaws exist now to deal with the issue of affordable housing?
There are three main policy or legal tools now that address the issue of affordable housing on Bowen: the Official Community Plan, the Secondary Suites By-law, and the new Affordable Housing Policy.

What is the Official Community Plan?
Bowen’s Official Community Plan refers to affordable housing in several broad objective statements including: “to establish a community service and land use pattern with high priority given to environmental and social factors,” “to encourage maintenance of a population with varying income levels, lifestyles and age groups,” and “to provide for the basic needs of full time residents, seasonal residents and visitors.”
The OCP also has a specific section related to affordable housing and quoted below are several relevant references from that section:
The objectives respecting affordable housing, rental housing and special needs housing in the Plan area are “to provide for a range of housing options that are affordable and or serve special needs groups without detracting from the rural character of Bowen Island.”
3.1.4.5 Affordable and special needs housing should be permitted in any location on Bowen Island;
In the Residential Policies section of Bowen’s Official Community Plan, there is consideration for affordable or special needs housing.
3.1.F Implementation of the residential densities provided for in this Plan through zoning regulation may require a review of the amount, kind and extent of need for:
– amenities; and
– affordable or special needs housing;
and implementation of such bylaws may require the establishment of different density regulations for a property: one regulation generally applicable to the property and one allowing a higher density subject to the provision of an amenity or affordable or special needs housing.

What is the Secondary Suites Bylaw?
A Housing Task Force was struck in 2003 and over a two-year period they conducted an extensive review of secondary suites and accessory residential buildings. They held several public meetings and their final report (presented to Council in May 2005) concluded that there was a need to legalize secondary suites as secondary suites would provide a much needed form of affordable housing. Secondary suites are a form of affordable housing and are seen as an amenity for the community. Secondary suites are considered to be affordable housing because they provide a form of housing that is affordable to a segment of the population currently not served by housing market.
The Bowen Island Municipality passed the Secondary Suites Bylaw in January 2008. The municipality is currently developing policy regarding accessory residential buildings.

What is the new Affordable Housing Policy?
(See  article, Policy will help deliver affordable housing)
This document, which Municipal Council passed unanimously in June, 2008, is a tool for the municipality to be applied when negotiating development proposals and considering rezoning applications. It provides clear objectives and targets for the delivery of a mix of housing types and sizes, including both potential rental and ownership units.
The Policy stipulates that any new development or redevelopment project must reserve 15% of the gross floor area for affordable housing. Smaller rezoning applications will be considered case by case.
The goal, as outlined in the policy, “is to establish a level playing field so that all development contributes to affordable housing solutions on Bowen Island in a meaningful, beneficial and equitable way.” The intended result is the construction of a mix of affordable rental and affordable housing from studio to three-bedroom suites, apartments and townhouses to semi-detached and single-detached homes.

What does the Affordable Housing Policy do?
The policy creates a framework for municipal staff and council to collaborate with development community to develop affordable housing.
There’s a reason it’s a policy not a bylaw; it’s a guide. It will help create an environment in which developers will be challenged to create a more inclusive neighbourhood.

How will Bowen be able to create affordable housing?
The municipality’s strategy is a straightforward approach whereby a number of conditions are created to deliver affordable housing. It involves the municipality acquiring land at little or no cost, such as property transferred through development contributions, or attained from private donations. Quality housing for rent or ownership is built on a cost neutral basis. That is, the units will be sold for the amount of money they cost to build, including design and construction.
With the target cost of producing a home for $200 per square foot, a home of 1,000 square feet could be offered for purchase as low as $200,000. Once determined, the value of the home will not significantly increase, as it will be subject to covenants held by BIM or a municipal housing organization.

What is the Bowen Community Housing Association (BCHA)?
In 2005 about 30 people met to discuss the crisis in affordable housing on Bowen Island. That resulted in the formation of the non-profit Bowen Community Housing Association (BCHA). A few months later, the BCHA hosted a two-day Affordable Housing for a Diverse Community symposium in 2006. It attracted 125 people who devoted an entire weekend to working on a game plan to address this critical issue. Out of that symposium came a four-pronged approach intended to create more affordability on Bowen, and help preserve its cherished character and social diversity. The BCHA’s Affordable Strategy Committee steered the process to develop an affordable housing strategy for Bowen Island.

What is the Affordable Housing Working Group?
Thanks largely due to the work of the BCHA, Municipal Council acknowledged the seriousness and urgency of the affordable housing supply issue. Responding to the recommendations in the Affordable Housing Strategy, it committed to adopting a proactive, ongoing affordable housing agenda and struck the Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG) in December 2007.
The group evolved from the Affordable Housing Strategy committee of the BCHA. BIM Council appointed seven local volunteers to the AHWG, naming Elizabeth Ballantyne as chair and providing a budget of $10,000. Council granted the working group authority to hire Tim Wake, an affordable housing consultant, to assist with its work. It gave the AHWG a mandate that included developing an affordable housing policy and beginning to undertake the work of an arms-length housing organization.

What other groups are involved in advocating for affordable housing?
Bowen Community Housing Association (BCHA)
Abbeyfield House of Bowen Island Society
Various developers

Why do we need a housing corporation?
A dedicated, single-purpose, professional organization will exist as an effective and essential mechanism for managing, acquiring and facilitating the building and selling of perpetually affordable housing.

What will a housing corporation do?
Its role is to ensure that Bowen offers a diversity of housing types to meet the housing needs of residents with a wide range of ages, incomes, occupations and household types. In addition to creating the opportunity to purchase affordable housing units, the corporation also will have a mandate to ensure that the island’s housing stock includes a sufficient number of rental units.
The work of the municipal housing organization will include leveraging housing units through the development process or with community partners. It will manage a waiting list of qualified prospective tenants or buyers, hold title to units and land as appropriate, manage the units as perpetually affordable housing and develop and enforce legal agreements.
In setting the groundwork for a municipal housing organization, the Affordable Housing Working Group has drafted criteria and policies outlining qualifications of individuals and families and covenants to be registered on title of lands to be zoned for affordable housing. It has also developed a communications plan to ensure the public is informed about its progress and opportunities.

When will the Housing Corporation be established?
It is anticipated that a housing corporation will be operational by early 2009.

Is this a department of the municipality?
No, the corporation will be an arms-length independent organization, managed by a Board of Directors. It will be a lean and efficient body, initially with a minimal staff working on contract. The corporation will not require long-term financial support from taxpayers, but rather will be operated based on a sustainable business model.

Who determines the cost of affordable housing units?
Typically the price gets negotiated, project by project. The target is $200 – $235 per square foot.

How will the units remain affordable?
Covenants will be drafted to ensure the property remain affordable. These covenants include a right of first refusal and an option to purchase. These documents will be used to control the resale price of housing and occupancy and use. The housing corporation will hold the right of first refusal option. These covenants will be legal documents registered on title. They will act as an encumbrance on the title. If someone were to go to the land title office for a transfer, the covenants would stipulate that the housing corporation must agree to allow the sale to proceed, and it will only do that if certain conditions are met.
These covenants are very strong and very effective.

Who will build affordable housing? Why would they?
There is no profit incentive in building this type of housing. We typically contract with a builder at a modest profit margin, say 10%, understanding there is no risk. There is no risk because we will already have a pool of buyers on the waitlist.

Who will be interested in affordable housing?
Purchasers are interested because they want a home in a location they find desirable. They must be approved for a mortgage. If they can’t afford it, they will not be able to purchase the affordable housing units.

Who owns the units?
This may vary. It could be the financial institution involved, or maybe a builder, municipality, corporation, interim owner or ultimate owner.

What will affordable housing look like?
Ideally, it will look like any kind of housing. It won’t stand out. It will look like housing that is any livable walk-able attractive neighbourhoods. It could include a number of types of housing including single homes, co-housing, community land trust and co-op housing; apartments, town homes, studios to one-two-three bedroom, duplexes. The size of the housing could range from 500 – 1500 square feet.

Where will it be created?
Ideally, some units will be constructed within walking distance of Snug Cove, possibility within civic lands formerly known as the surplus lands. The goal is to create a diverse inventory that gives people some options, but where possible be within walking distance to major amenities, services and near transit.

When will it be created?
We hope to have Housing Corporation in place early in 2009. The municipality, through rezonings and other development applications is beginning to assemble land and developers are bringing proposals forward. Realistically, Bowen won’t see any units available in 2009. The earliest will probably be 2010 but there is no guarantee of that either. Part of it depends on how well the process is supported. The best thing that could happen would be for the community to embrace any substantial new development or new applications that would produce affordable housing.

What will the housing cost?
The target is for final cost all-in at approximately $200 – $235 per square foot. Typically, a one-bedroom unit would be 600 square feet, two-bedroom would be 900 square feet, a 3-bedroom would be 1200 square feet.

How many units will be available for purchase? For rent?
Typically the demand for rent and purchase is roughly equal. In terms of the number of units it runs around 50-50.
The objective is to build both types of units. It’s a little more expensive per square feet to build rental. It’s also a little more challenging because you’re not selling it right away so the projects typically require more equity.
The housing corporation will need to find equity, perhaps through a housing fund which would grow through an amenity contribution from developers.
It’s possible that a housing corporation could own the rental buildings and units and that would create revenue and a way to pay for management and financing. Or the property could be held by development or sold to another not-for-profit group. A private foundation or employer also could manage the housing.
In terms of how many units to build, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg kind of thing. It will depend partially on the waitlist. We’d like to build as many as we can. We would like to meet the demand but at this stage we are not exactly sure what the demand is.
We do have the needs assessment to guide us. At this point we would like to start small, and look at a number of 10 or 20-unit projects.

Who sets rental rate?
This is done project by project. A benchmark rate is set at, say, 1.25 per square foot per month, with the amount appreciating with the consumer price index over time.

Will the units have a resalable price cap?
An affordable price will be set and the unit sold. That price will appreciate at the core consumer price index. We don’t want this to reflect Canadian housing market rates. Rather, it’s tied with person’s ability to pay. If it’s affordable today, we want it to be affordable to the next purchaser.

Who will be able to purchase affordable housing on Bowen?
Members of our community, residents, those employed here, retirees, young adults, etc., who wish to buy and have the means for purchasing a home will be welcome to register for the purchase or rental of affordable housing.

Why should people be given the opportunity to purchase non-market housing?
This goes back to the question of the community valuing a diverse population. Presently, the market is failing to supply low or mid-range housing. That means only the wealthy can afford to make Bowen their home, and that is not acceptable to many. It’s also creating an economic crisis as employers cannot attract employees because they cannot afford to live here.
Affordable housing will offer an opportunity for people who can afford to pay for housing a chance to purchase a home on the island.
However, it is important to note that, unlike traditional purchasing of housing, this is not a big financial investment. People who purchase affordable housing will not gain the same way in which someone who purchases market housing will. They will be “purchasing a nest, not a nest egg.”

What are Ownership Unit Guidelines?
These procedures outline the qualifications and Waitlist process to identify eligibility and register those seeking to purchase affordable housing on Bowen. The guidelines outline a straightforward process that will lead to an opportunity for applicants to purchase housing units, when they eventually become available. Though that may still be a few years down the road, it is not uncommon for potential purchasers to choose to add their names to a long-term Waitlist in anticipation of owning at some point. The municipal housing corporation, to be established in early 2009, will ultimately file, review and hold applications. In the interim, the AHWG will be responsible for administering the applications. For additional information regarding the Affordable Housing Purchase Waitlist, please click here.

What is the process for registering?
Those interested in registering for the waitlist to purchase affordable housing need to apply according to the Ownership Unit Guidelines. Eligibility for the waitlist is explained fully in the guidelines that accompany application forms. Applicants for the waitlist must be residents, or full-time employees working for a local business, or retirees who lived on Bowen five out of six years prior to their retirement. Property owners are not eligible to apply, nor is anyone who has owned property previously up to five years from the date of application. Applications must include pre-approval for a mortgage from a financial institution.
To read more about the application process, click here.

If there are no housing units being built, why apply now to be on a waitlist?
Other communities have found that assembling a waitlist previous to construction of units is beneficial in a number of ways. Applicants who took the time to register will have the first say when housing becomes available. As well, the list will help the housing corporation determine types and number of units that need to be developed.

When will there be a rental waitlist?
A waitlist for that type of housing will be launched once a rental project is underway.