architectural rendering of the BIRCH project building

Funding Application is Submitted!

The BIRCH Board is pleased to share with the community that we and our partners at Lookout Housing + Health Society have today submitted our application for funding of the Bowen Island Community Lands project to the Building BC: Community Housing Fund.

After feedback following the declining of our previous application, BIRCH decided that the best route to success this time would be to to partner with the Lookout Society, whose experience and track record addresses our application’s primary weaknesses. Their strengths made it clear to us that they should take the lead on the application and on the resulting building, and we could not be happier with the relationship.

Lookout has been offering a range of programs and housing and health solutions since 1971 and their projects house more than 1,800 people every night and our community is incredibly fortunate to have them leading our application. At every turn, the BIRCH ED and Board members were clear that the goal is building housing, and that the involvement of our friends at the Lookout Society gives us the best chance for success.

BIRCH will of course continue to be involved wherever it furthers the project. We have the relationships with Bowen Island Municipality, the architects and engineers, and everyone else involved in this project. We simply want to get this building built!

Of course key support for this project comes from the Bowen Island community. Thank you to everyone who wrote letters of support, offered help, and urged this project forward. We could not have gotten to this point without you.

We don’t yet know when we hear back from BC Housing, but we will of course keep you in the loop, and look forward to sharing exciting news.

Thank you!

David McCullum
Board Chair
Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing

BIRCH needs you and your letter of support. Again.

BIRCH is applying to BC Housing to the BC Housing Community Housing Fund this fall. Support from the Bowen community has been critical to our progress so far and we’re hoping that you will make the time to help us again and send a letter of support by Oct 15th.

Click here to open our full backgrounder on the project and the ask.

Background
Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing (BIRCH) is the only non-profit housing society based on Bowen Island and is working to develop a more diverse range of housing options for our community.

We have land! Bowen Island Municipality has committed a 0.15 HA vacant parcel at 1033 Miller Road to build a community housing project with approximately 24 units of secure rental housing. With this land BIRCH will help build a more connected, resilient community by providing secure rental housing that will suit a variety of needs for Bowen Island community members, with a special focus on the Island’s most vulnerable: those with mobility challenges, low-income families, individuals, and seniors, and moderate-income families.

The need for affordable and non-market housing in our community is well-known, confirmed by a Housing Needs Assessment completed in 2020 and BIRCH’s own community housing surveys (2019, 2022). Additionally, the Bowen Island Community Foundation’s Vital Conversations most recent gathering identified affordable housing as a priority.

This project will provide urgently needed rental housing stock that is has a variety of size and rent levels. Providing secure tenure in rental housing is critical to maintaining a diverse community.

The current housing situation on Bowen Island (updated with 2021 Census data)

  • 90% single family homes
  • 85% Ownership
  • 21% owner households spending 30% or more of its income on shelter costs
  • 35% of rental tenant households spending 30% or more of its income on shelter costs
  • MLS Home Price Index, September 2023, lists detached homes price at $1,210,700
  • This requires an annual income of $253,491.10 (calculated with 10% down, with payments at 30% of household income)
  • The median total income for households on Bowen is $111,000±

Funding
We are currently preparing to apply to the next round of BC Housing’s Community Housing Fund. If we are successful in our application, we anticipate approximately $3.8m capital contribution that will be used to fund the construction of the project. In addition, we will be seeking funding from CMHC’s National Co-Investment Fund as well as contributions from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Green Municipal Fund to increase the energy efficiency and sustainability of the building.

Please send your letters of support to robyn@birchousing.org. We will collate them and submit them with the housing application. Your response by October 15th would be appreciated.  

If you’d like a template for your letter, please click here.

Thank you so very much for your support. We cannot do this without you.

David McCullum
Board Chair
Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing

Variance Update – please continue to support this important project.

We are grateful that Bowen Council was unanimous in its support of the BIRCH variance request and has referred it to its committees for comment. They also would like the public’s comments and are asking for your input before July 24th at 4pm.

Comments may be sent:

• by E-mail to mayorandcouncil@bimbc.ca;
• by dropping off in person;
• by mail to 981 Artisan Lane, Bowen Island, BC, V0N1G2; or
• by fax to 604-947-0193

We are asking the community to send letters of support. These variances are critical to the viability of our project and so we hope you’re able to make the time to show your support.

Thank you so very much for your support. We cannot do this without you.

David McCullum
Board Chair
Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing

BIRCH Needs Your Help, Please!

Hello Bowen Island, we need your help in the form of a letter or email to Bowen Island Municipal Council by June 22nd!

Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing (BIRCH) is applying for a Development Variance Permit for our community rental housing project located on Miller Road (next to the new Health Centre). We are seeking two variances: the first is a reduction of parking spaces from the required 24 to 10.

The second variance is an increase to building height from the zoned maximum of 9.0m to 13.29m.

Only with both of these variances will we be able to maximize our use of the property and provide the ~25 units of secure rental housing that we have been working towards these last few years.

We are asking the community to send letters of support. These variances are critical to the viability of our project and so we hope you’re able to make the time to show your support.

Our application will be introduced at the June 26th Council meeting, with a vote coming later in the summer at the July 24th meeting.

Please send your letters:

• by E-mail to mayorandcouncil@bimbc.ca;
• by dropping off in person;
• by mail to 981 Artisan Lane, Bowen Island, BC, V0N1G2; or
• by fax to 604-947-0193

Thank you so very much for your support. We cannot do this without you.

David McCullum
Board Chair
Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing

BIRCH is Applying for a Variance!

Director Adam Lougheed and the brains of the sign erection project Ralph proudly show off BIRCH’s Development Variance Permit Application notice.

BIRCH is proud to have reached the next step in the project: asking the Municipal Council to approve our application to both increase the permitted height of our building and decrease the required number of parking spaces.

The height will allow us to maximize our use of the land and offer the most rental spaces possible, and the parking reduction does the same, while also recognizing that this will be a project that results in housing that is walkable to the school, shops, the ferry, and the core facilities of our community.

Please watch this space for our call for support as this decision comes before Council.

Bowen Island Municipal Election October 2022 – questions for the candidates

Summary

On October 15th our community goes to the polls to select its local government. BIRCH has questions for each candidate:

  • What tangible commitment are you as a candidate willing to make to BIRCH and the Miller Road project, and uphold once elected?
  • Will you support implementing the MRDT to provide revenue for building affordable housing for Bowen?

Background

Several years ago, we saw a gap in the kind of housing being developed on Bowen. With no non-profit organisation in a position to go after the newly available provincial and federal funding opportunities, Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing (BIRCH) Society was formed. We reached out to the municipality, and they agreed to partner with us in the development of new affordable housing in the community and provide land for the project.

BIRCH is primarily volunteer run, with our executive director working at below market compensation. With the approximate $30,000 of operational funds BIM has provided in the past 4 years, BIRCH has been able to secure almost $200,000 in project funding for the Miller Road affordable housing project (note –this funding cannot be used for BIRCH operations). We have secured our consultant team and completed schematic design of the building. We have also recently formed a partnership with a well-established Vancouver-based housing organisation that greatly improves our chances of securing government funding.

During the campaign for the 2018 Bowen Island municipal election, 100% of the candidates for Council and the Mayoralty publicly pledged their support to working to solve the housing crisis that the Island was facing. Each candidate endorsed the project that BIRCH had been pursuing in support of solving this problem. However, after the election, Council drastically reduced the land that they would make available to the BIRCH project. The resulting renegotiation resulted in a significant reduction in the land available to the project, drastically reducing the scope of BIRCH’s ability to build, and sending mixed messages to potential funding partners regarding the municipality’s support for the project.

In the 4 years since then, our relationship with BIM has felt less and less like a partnership. In 2019 we were granted a 3-year agreement to lease on a lot on Miller Road. Recently, a renewal of that agreement was reduced to 1 year – according to the CAO this reduction was in order to “hold (BIRCH’s) feet to the fire” and ensure that the land remain available for “any higher purpose.” These types of statements have made us at BIRCH feel that we are not seen as valuable partners, working together with the municipality to build housing for the community – but rather as an outside organisation that needs to continually prove its value.

Additionally, operational funding has been very difficult to secure. Applications to BIM for multi-year funding were turned down, and it was only after 3 unsuccessful grant applications that council made a special resolution to provide operational funds. We repeatedly had to make our case for the need for operational funds to support our organisation – once again feeling we need to prove our worthiness as a partner. Continually having to justify our organisation and its role in developing housing on Bowen has taken its toll on our board and staff and our motivation.

Lastly, our advocacy for implementation of the MRDT has not been made a priority by the current council. This tax would provide revenue to the municipality that could be used towards affordable housing – such as operational funds for BIRCH or other housing organisations.

BIRCH does not purport to have the only answer to the housing crisis, nor is it the only organisation working towards housing solutions on Bowen Island. We are however, in a unique position to apply for upcoming government funding opportunities – with our years of professional experience, work completed to date towards the Miller Road project and our ongoing efforts at building relationships with funding partners.

With this upcoming election and a new mayor and many new councillors, we are hoping for a stronger relationship and true partnership with the municipality moving forward.


BIRCH’s July 2022 Housing Survey Summary

Summary

This past summer Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing (BIRCH) conducted our second community housing survey. Like our last survey in 2019, we asked the Bowen community about the current housing situation and for feedback on our proposed housing project. In this most recent survey we have also asked how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the housing situation on Bowen Island.

The survey results summarized in this post will help guide BIRCH as we progress towards the development of non-market affordable rental housing here on Bowen Island. We would like to thank everyone who completed the survey.

Key Takeaways

Similar to the survey we conducted in May 2019, the majority of respondents were middle age, with two-thirds of all responses coming from those between the ages of 50 and 79. We received no survey responses from those under 20, six responses from those between 20-34 and only 3 responses from those 80 years old and above. It is important to note that while these groups may be under represented in the findings summarized below they remain important members of the Bowen community, with unique housing concerns that must be considered.

  • Respondents from all household income levels expressed concern about housing affordability and availability on Bowen Island.
  • Almost all respondents (97%) indicated that their concerns about housing affordability and availability have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • While the majority of respondents indicated that their current housing is suitable in the near-term, many had significant longer-term concerns about their ability to age in place safely.
  • Consistent with the 2019 survey results, below-market rental remains the highest priority housing tenure type, with almost half of all respondents (47%) identifying it as their top priority.
  • There is a significant interest in exploring more unconventional housing types such as mobile and manufactured homes, as well as “tiny homes”, located on either leasehold pads or non-permanent foundations.


BIRCH’s 2022 Housing Survey is live!

BIRCH is very excited to be moving forward with the next step in the feasibility stage of our project – an updated housing survey!

Take the survey now! www.birchousing.org/survey

BIRCH welcomes all Bowen Island community members to complete this survey to identify housing issues and priorities on Bowen Island. The results of the survey will help to inform BIRCH’s proposed non-profit rental project on Lot 3 of the Community Lands, as well as general needs for future housing projects on Bowen Island. We thank you in advance for your time and effort to complete this survey – it should take less than 10 minutes.
All survey responses are confidential.

All survey responses are confidential.

The survey is open until Thursday, June 30th.

For more info please visit BIRCH’s website at: https://birchousing.org/

BIRCH’s Year in Review

It’s that time of the year when old friends reconnect, catch up on the year past and make plans for the next. We also wanted to reassure you that our low profile the last while doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy, we have a lot to share!

The housing crisis on Bowen Island has of course not gone away. And COVID-19 has affected virtually every aspect of everyone’s lives. But in spite of these Interesting Times, BIRCH has been able to advance our project in many ways, and we are even working on a second potential rental housing project for Bowen Island.

Since our last update we received two grants that will allow us to continue advancing our project on Lot 3. The first of these is $15,000 from Bowen Island Community Foundation; these funds are being used towards project specific needs, such as land preparation and consultant fees. The second is an $8500 operational funding grant from Bowen Island Municipality, which will be used to cover ongoing administrative costs and are critical to ensuring that we continue to make progress on the project. BIRCH is strongly encouraging the municipality to prioritise implementing the MRDT (Municipal & Regional District Tax), as it would provide a revenue source to fund affordable housing on Bowen.

On that front we have now completed the schematic design of our building on Lot 3 on Miller Road. With the support of our development consultants, CitySpaces and our architects at Boni Maddison Architects, we have been able to apply for project funding from 3 levels of government.

As for the external funding required to advance towards construction, our application to BC Housing in their January intake window was unsuccessful. Of the record 190 applications they received, only 50 were funded. Unfortunately, BIRCH was not among the successful applicants. We received considerable positive feedback from BCH and may re-apply in the next intake window.

In the meantime, we are working with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canada’s national housing agency, on alternative funding options. In support of this we have signed an MOU with Lookout Housing and Health Society as a potential partner for the Lot 3 project. Lookout has more than 40 years of non-profit housing experience in the region and will be our partner to advance our project towards completion.

We have also partnered with Lookout to submit a joint response to the Municipality’s Request for Expressions of Interest for Lot 1 Area 2 of the BIM Community Lands. BIRCH and Lookout are proposing an approximately 20-unit rental housing project there.

In the next year we hope to move forward with CMHC funding for Lot 3, with Lookout as our partner. In support of this we will revive our community working group, BARC and conduct our 2nd community housing survey. Targeting a launch date early in the new year, this survey will provide a “pulse-check” on current community housing needs and concerns.

Lastly, we would like to thank our volunteer Board directors Aaron Davison, Adam Lougheed, Jack Resels, Amy Seabrook, Tim Wake, Marla Zucht, and David McCullum for their time, our friends at CitySpace Development Consultants and Greenbooks Accounting for all their hard work this past year. Additionally, the BIM Community Foundation, and Bowen Island Municipality for their financial support. And the Bowen Island community as a whole for your ongoing support – Thank you all!

And one more thank you is due to our fearless Executive Director Robyn Fenton. Simply put: Robyn is the driving force behind BIRCH. Her endless enthusiasm and energy, her industry experience and insight, her contacts, and her relentless optimism are what has enabled our progress to date.

Thank you, Robyn!

We wish you and yours a safe, happy, and resilient 2022, and thank you again for your support.

BIRCH’s Project Funding Update

BIRCH has been given the disappointing but not completely unexpected news that BC Housing is at this time unable to fund our rental housing project in Snug Cove. While we are disappointed, this is by no means the end of the project and we are encouraged by the priorities reflected in the BCH funding decisions.

We and our development consultants have been in communication with our representatives from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) regarding their National Co-Investment
Fund
. Through this process, we have ensured that our building’s design meets or exceeds the requirements of that program, and we will be working with them on our application to that fund.

We will also be pursuing funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipality’s Green Municipal Fund as we work to ensure that this vital project is built and built as soon as possible.

BIRCH is grateful to BC Housing, CMHC, the VanCity Foundation, and of course to the Bowen Island Municipality for their support to date, and we look forward to sharing with you some good news in the not-too-distant future.

We are especially grateful to the Bowen Island Community Foundation for their recent grant of $15,000 in project funding that will support us in the coming months to pursue these further funding options.

Thank you for your continued encouragement, and ongoing support.

The Community Helping BIRCH Helping the Community

It’s virtually Spring and all sorts of things are growing and blooming, and BIRCH recently received more vital nourishment to ensure that our project continues to grow.

The Bowen Island Community Foundation has again reflected the Island’s support of our Snug Cove rental housing project, and provided BIRCH with $15,000 in funding to bridge the gap to full project funding. We’re expecting a decision on that funding in the next few weeks, so watch this space!

Thank you to the community, to the BICF for their steadfast support of this project and so many other good causes on Bowen, and to all who support and work to provide resilient community housing!

https://www.bowenislandundercurrent.com/opinion/here-are-bowen-island-community-foundations-2021-grant-recipients-3778080

The Community Helping BIRCH Helping the CommunityIt’s virtually Spring and all sorts of things are growing and blooming, and BIRCH recently received more vital nourishment to ensure that our project continues to grow.The Bowen Island Community Foundation has again reflected the Island’s support of our Snug Cove rental housing project, and provided BIRCH with $15,000 in funding to bridge the gap to full project funding. We’re expecting a decision on that funding in the next few weeks, so watch this space!Thank you to the community, to the BICF for their steadfast support of this project and so many other good causes on Bowen, and to all who support and work to provide resilient community housing!



https://www.bowenislandundercurrent.com/opinion/here-are-bowen-island-community-foundations-2021-grant-recipients-3778080

BIRCH still needs your help!

Hello Bowen! As the deadline for our January application to BC Housing’s Community Housing Fund approaches, we need to ask one last time for your letters of support for this much-needed community project.

We know this is a busy time of year for everyone, so we’ve prepared a letter template which is available for download on our website or through the link below.

Thank you so much and Happy Holidays from all of us at BIRCH!

Please (pretty please) send your support letters by Dec. 31, 2020 to: info@birchousing.org.

BIRCH support letter BCH template

BIRCH’s Community Update Video!

Many many thanks to the large group that joined us on Nov. 25th for an update on our housing project. There were images and details from the architects, a project update from our ED, Robyn Fenton, and great questions from the group.

Of course: not everyone who wished to was able to attend, so we recorded the presentation and Q&A session, and are happy to provide it to you here for viewing as your schedule permits

BIRCH Community Update Nov. 25th, 2020

And please (pretty please) don’t forget to send your support letters by Dec. 31, 2020 to: info@birchousing.org.

BIRCH needs your help!

The next major milestone for the BIRCH project will be our application for BC Housing’s Community Housing Fund intake in January 2021.

In support of this application, we are asking Bowen Island community members to write a letter of support for this project. We appreciate that you are all busy (especially at this time of year) so we’ve prepared a letter template that is available here.

Please (pretty please) send your support letters by Dec. 31, 2020 to: info@birchousing.org.

Thank you so very much, and we look forward to seeing you at our Update Event on November 25th at 7pm.

BIRCH support letter BCH template

Nov. 25th: Community Update Event!

Hi again Bowen Island,

It’s us, BIRCH, or more formally, Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing. It’s been too long since we last talked. We are remedying that by providing an update to the community on BIRCH’s progress, our current project status, and where we’re headed next.

Given the current health situation, the best and safest way to do this is by hosting an online community update event on Wednesday, November 25th at 7 pm.

To register, please visit: https://bit.ly/birchhousing

You will also learn more by going to our Facebook page or Facebook event.

At this event we will reveal for the first time what the building will look like, a breakdown of unit types, and projected rent levels. Boni Madison Architects, our development consultants CitySpaces, and BIRCH Executive Director Robyn Fenton will be available afterwards to answer questions.

We are really looking forward to seeing you there!