Housing Affordability

A Denman Island History


“Residents of Hornby and Denman Island have struggled to find affordable and secure housing for years. Rental housing is in short supply and often available only in the off season, while the cost of ownership housing is high, affected by the demand for seasonal homes. At the same time, the population is aging and there are few housing options for empty nesters and elders that will meet their shelter and service needs if or when they are unable to maintain themselves in their own home.”

Housing Needs on Hornby and Denman Island Final Report Dec. 2008, M. Eberle

Three plus decades ago, land prices on Denman Island were among the cheapest in BC. Many houses were owner-built and constructed with recycled materials to further reduce costs. While land prices have risen sharply in the intervening years, islanders’ resourcefulness and ingenuity have persevered. To build on this history, Denman Community Land Trust Association compiled the following chronology.

– The Comox Strathcona Regional District (CVRD) shaped Denman’s zoning bylaws. For example, on land parcels one acre or larger bylaws permitted “two one family dwellings or one two family dwelling” and on lots five acres or larger, a multi-family residential building was permitted on a one dwelling unit per acre basis.

1974 – The Province recognizes the Gulf Islands as a unique area threatened by over-development and establishes the Islands Trust. The Islands Trust Act solidified the Province’s mandate to preserve and protect the environment and unique nature of the islands.

1977 – The Islands Trust Act is amended to give the Islands Trust land use planning authority.

1977 to 1988 – Bylaw changes gradually altered the urban grid inherited from the CVRD zoning. Until 1988, Denman bylaws continued to permit a “guest cottage” with a maximum floor space of four hundred square feet on lots two acres or greater in size.

1991 – As land costs rose in the early 1990’s, affordability began surfacing as a community issue. The Denman Seniors Housing Society was the first organization formed to provide housing for a segment of the community.

1992 – The Denman Island Local Trust Committee (LTC) asked the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) to look at rental availability. The APC advocated maintaining density as set out in the bylaws and not zoning to accommodate accessory dwellings.

1993 – A Rental Policy Committee informally tallied the number of renters each knew personally – the number was well over sixty – and concluded that “Denman’s problem is vacancy rate. The vast majority of renters are long-term residents. Thus more rentals will not necessarily create more vacancies over time.”

1997 to 2001 – During a lengthy review of the Official Community Plan (OCP), the question of accessory dwellings again surfaced as did the need to set limits to growth.

– Vacation rentals became an increasingly lucrative source of income for landlords, resulting in the loss of secure year-long tenancy and displacement of long-term renters. Short-term vacation rentals are not legal on Denman Island, but compliance is difficult to enforce.

2002 – The LTC struck an Accessory Dwelling Advisory Committee to look at rentals and affordability. A year later, at the end of an exhaustive study, the committee members were not able to reach consensus on whether to permit accessory dwellings.

2003 – the Islands Trust commissioned a study of options for affordable housing in the Trust Area: Options for Affordable Housing.

2004 – Hornby Island representatives of Islanders’ Secure Land Association (ISLA) approached the Denman Island Residents Association (DIRA) and obtained DIRA support for ISLA activities including Denman.

2005 – Many rental units were sold to take advantage of a lucrative real estate market. Combined with a growing number of part-time residents, houses began to sit empty for much of the year. The remaining landlords sometimes neglected routine maintenance. Many young families and the less affluent had no choice but to leave the island. Denman Island faced a declining school population, loss of young families, loss of available laborers, and loss of the diversity which makes for a vibrant, healthy community.

– Growing demand for waterfront and view properties, part-time/recreational ownership and real estate speculation continued to drive up land prices. Property taxes increased by over 50% resulting in rent increases or the decision to sell.

– A “Housing Solutions for Small Communities” forum was hosted by the Hornby Island Community Economic Enhancement Corporation on Hornby Island (HICEEC). In addition, ISLA held two speak out sessions on Denman Island. Many “guest houses” and trailers had become the only available low cost rentals. An ad-hoc action group began to identify immediate needs and act to repair roofs, cut firewood, and do some basic safety renovations.

– The Denman LTC held several housing focused community meetings as part of an OCP review and asked the APC to prepare a report on affordable housing. After a year’s work, the APC recommended a density transfer mechanism, a limited number (4-6) of affordable accessory dwellings, a limited number (4-6) of affordable secondary suites, a land trust initiative, a local governing body able to create and implement housing agreements, affordable land purchase options and co-housing or co-purchase options, and an incentive to bring current ‘cheap’ rentals up to basic safety and health standards.

2008 – The OCP review lead to amendments which reflected the need for affordable housing opportunities and the creation of a density transfer mechanism and density bank for affordable housing purposes. Further options were not pursued because the Islands Trust presently lacks the capability to safeguard affordability.

2008 – Denman Island Women’s Outreach Society (DIWOS) undertook a needs assessment which comprised anecdotal evidence of single mothers and elder women in immediate need of affordable housing.

2008 – The Denman Community Land Trust Association (DCLTA) was formed in May of 2008 and incorporated with the Registrar of BC Societies on August 20, 2008 to address some of the affordable housing needs on Denman Island.

2008 – HICEEC contracted with Eberle Planning and Research to study housing needs on Hornby and Denman Island under the combined oversight of a steering committee comprising relevant organizations from both islands. The final report Housing Needs on Hornby and Denman Island was completed December 4, 2008.

Housing Needs on Hornby and Denman Islands Final Report December 2008 M. Eberle