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Bowen Island residents race for affordable housing

Participants in a Bowen Island foot race tomorrow are trying to raise awareness for what they say is a little acknowledged fact: even an island oasis can have an affordable housing crisis.

“Bowen is quite gentrified… all you need to do is get on the ferry and see that the ferries are full of Mercedes SUV’s, for instance,” said Amanda Euringer, board member for the Bowen Community Housing Association.

“Bowen is like the West Van of Vancouver. It’s a beautiful place, 15 minutes to Vancouver, and prices have gotten driven up all over the place.”

The race, Run for the Ferry, marks the beginning of Bowen Island’s annual community festival Bowfest, and is raising money that will go toward the BCHA’s campaign for higher density affordable market housing on the island.

According to studies done by the BCHA, between 2003 and 2006, the average sale price of a house on the island nearly doubled, from just over $412,000 to nearly $815,000, and in 2007 the lowest sale price of any home on Bowen Island was $395,000.

Euringer said for the small businesses owners that keep the island functioning, or single mothers like herself who need affordable housing, the only option is paying off someone else’s mortgage through rent.

The BCHA is directing its efforts at island policies that have kept affordable housing unobtainable, with goals such as legalizing secondary suites, and ensuring a portion of land is set aside for affordable housing so that it’s not up to private developers to do it out of the goodness of their heart.

Some who are less patient already are.

One local, David Sorensen of Sorensen Fine Homes, is applying for re-zoning that would allow extra densities on his plot of land that is already slotted for market-priced development. If approved, Sorensen would develop, along with 33 regularily priced homes, 12 small cottages that would be offered to the lower income community for around $180,000.

Modeled after the affordable housing model in Langford, an anonymous board would select homeowners from a pool of eligible, lower-income applicants.

Whether or not the plan is approved by the municipality, however, is yet to be seen.

“Politics in a small community is not a strait line. But I think I’m coming up with something that is essentially a no-brainer,” said Sorensen.

For Euringer, and many other lacing up their shoes for tomorrow’s race, it doesn’t matter how housing becomes more affordable on the island-- as long as it does.

“If these people are part of your community it behooves you to give them a reason to be a really decent part of your community,” she said, “and part of that is giving them the ability to buy into their own housing.”

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee

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