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?
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.