Galiano Green aims to bring back affordable housing to Galiano Island.
Tom Hennessy has been living on Galiano Island since 1971. "When I came here things were rustic, easy and the land cheap," he recalls. He built his own house on ten acres and was part of a growing community of young people doing the same. "With land selling at $1000 an acre, we paid $10,000 and then went down to the hardware store for lumber and cement."
With enthusiasm and hard work, Galiano developed a vibrant mix of residents, businesses and community services.
In the last couple of decades, the community is showing signs of weakening. The full-time island population declined by 9.5 per cent between 2006 and 2011. The school population has dropped from 115 to about 35. The Anglican Church is in danger of being sold, and many local businesses are in jeopardy because of declining community numbers.
The high cost of land and development restrictions are making it increasingly difficult for families with children and young people to stay on Galiano. It is now the Gulf Island with the highest core housing need, more than double the Canadian average. Residents are in core housing need when they spend more than a third of their household total income on shelter costs.
Ironically Galiano has more houses than people, and half of Galiano's home sit empty for the better part of the year.
Hennessy and other islanders were extremely frustrated at not doing anything. "Our community is suffering because people can't afford to start out."
He and other residents decided to take matters into their own hand in the late 1990s by forming the Galiano Land and Community Housing Trust. They are now very close to breaking ground on a new affordable housing project, Galiano Green. This project that will use a non-profit community land trust to make land available to islanders in need of housing so they could build their own houses.
The Board of Galiano Land and Community Housing Trust looked at many options for affordable housing, such as co-operative housing, co-housing and rental housing, but these all involved millions for construction in an era in which there is very little funding for affordable housing. Ultimately the Board focused in the chosen model of making it possible for residents to build their own house on leased land. The Board is very committed to being able to prove that any rural community can do this.
Hennessy and other residents pooled their own money so that the Housing Trust could purchase a ten-acre site last summer, on which some 20 home sites could be developed.
Building sites will be leased from the Housing Trust at a monthly cost of $175-$300, removing the financial barrier of purchasing a building lot. Housing costs will also be lower by sharing infrastructure and allowing people to put in their own 'sweat equity'.
For those who do not have experience in building, community members are lined up to be mentors, and the Housing Trust is prepared to build modest homes that could be sold for the cost of labour and materials.
Hennessy proudly states, "We're creating a situation where someone who could only rent can now design, build and own their home."
The development will be green. Rather than bulldozing the land and dividing lots, building sites have been selected according to the land topography and forest cover. Less than 10% of the land will be leased and more than 90% is protected as common space, managed in perpetuity by the Housing Trust. Housing will draw on harvested rainwater, superior insulation, and best-practice wastewater disposal.
Jemma Lee, who is new to the community and runs her own web design business, is excited at the prospect of Galiano Green. In a video testimonial endorsing the project she says, "I want to help build the community that I'm now a part of. It would make a really big difference to me. It would allow me to stay in the community."
Hennessy says that Galiano Green, "could change the whole landscape of creating affordable housing." He believes that using land trusts and giving people the opportunity to build their homes is something that could be replicated in many other communities.
Since purchasing the land, the Housing Trust has been setting the stage for the development. Because Galiano Green is a significant departure from standard development on the Island, they've needed significant studies to show that the concept is viable, and are now awaiting the outcome of a rezoning application to the Islands Trust.
"We had no idea how much consulting and studies were needed to prove the concept," says Hennessy. But he notes that the Island Trust is understandably cautious because this type of project has never been done before.
Vancity Community Foundation is supporting this critical stage of the project by helping to fund rezoning-related work with a $19,460 grant. This includes demonstrating the technical feasibility of the project to approval agencies, supporting a Community Information Meeting, refining project financials, and conducting a Need and Demand Study (for affordable housing) on Galiano Island.
Emily Beam, Manager of Strategic Programs at Vancity Community Foundation, is excited by the project's innovative approach. "We supported this project because they are trying a new approach to affordable, green home ownership that could be reproduced in other small communities across BC."
A mortgage will be requested from Vancity Credit Union, which will be repaid by the monthly lease payments. Vancity Credit Union will also foot the legal costs. The project also received a $4000 grant to fund the commercial appraisal the commercial appraisal required for mortgage approval.
A rezoning decision is expected in June. If there is a green light, then some very thrilled residents will be heading to the hardware store to get some cement.
Young Agrarians: Growing the Local Food Economy.
Young Agrarians (YA, established in 2011) is a not-for-profit grassroots initiative that inspires and connects the next generation of food growers across BC with the aim to go national in 2014. Formed as a partnership with FarmFolk CityFolk (FFCF, established in 1993), young agrarians are people who value ecology, community, and growing food. Its constituents include farmers, food activists, community organizers, food lovers, balcony and community gardeners, artists, musicians and more. BC-focused for 2012-13, YA started in response to a growing need for a diverse, decentralized, ecologically sound and sovereign food movement focused on youth in Canada.
Vancity Community Foundation has supported YA with a grant of $10,000 in 2011 to start up the network. Vancity believes promoting local agriculture in BC and Canada will bring people closer to the land and environment, help create jobs, strengthen local economies, and reduce the nation's need for fossil-fuel-dependent food industries. Visit Young Agrarians online.
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Vancity Community Foundation has also been supporting the Carnegie Community Action Project, an initiative of the Carnegie Community Centre Association, in a three-year project to undertake a grassroots community visioning project, and to participate in land use planning in the neighbourhood. The Foundation is also very concerned about recent activities in the DTES and we support the statement made by Vancity.
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