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Strathcona Community Health Network launches wide-reaching, in-depth housing study

Before the housing crisis can be dealt with, we have to know the reasons behind it, says coordinator
Strathcona Community Health Network Coordinator Libby King speaks with Coun. Ron Kerr prior to her presentation to council Monday night, where she told them about the newly-launched Housing Needs Assessment that is just the start of an overarching regional housing plan set to be complete by the fall. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

Island Health doesn’t usually deal in housing issues.

But because without adequate housing, health issues arise, grow and worsen, the health authority has funded the Strathcona Community Health Network (SCHN) to the tune of $30,000 to study the housing issues in our region and develop a plan to mitigate them.

“This is a pretty unique housing project,” says Libby King, coordinator of the SCHN. “Most housing projects are primarily funded through municipalities and ours is one of the very few funded through a health authority. That speaks to the importance of access to appropriate and affordable housing to health and well-being.”

But before they can address how to deal with the seemingly ever-increasing housing issues, King says, they need to find out exactly what those issues are.

So the SCHN has started that research by launching an online survey for area residents to fill out that King says will give them a better picture of what housing struggles people are seeing.

“The survey is an important part of the Housing Needs Assessment we are conducting,” King says, “and we are encouraging everyone who can do so to fill it out. It’s a way for people to share their experiences – to be heard – and to be part of this planning process so that we can have a housing plan that is responsive to what people actually need.”

That Housing Needs Assessment, King says, is scheduled to be completed in June with the subsequent Housing Plan to be completed in the fall.

“We heard from both the federal and provincial governments that they would be putting up some funding for housing,” King says, “so we thought it would be wise to get the data collection portion (of the project) done as soon as possible and develop the housing plan after that,” so they could be better positioned to leverage some of that funding when it’s announced.

What they know so far is that the statistics paint a bleak picture, King says, but they need more first-hand details on how bad it really is.

“We know that the population of Campbell River has grown significantly,” King says, “the vacancy rate between 2013 and 2017 went from seven per cent to .5 – which is a very short time for a very large change – median housing prices have increased significantly and the majority of people who are moving to Campbell River are seniors and retirees from places like Vancouver and Alberta.”

But they need to figure out the impact of those changing numbers and what it really means for people.

“Some of the initial early data, for example, shows that people living alone – along with lone-parents – are those who are struggling the most in this new environment,” King says. “We know there are a lot of people who can’t afford housing and are living in RVs in people’s back gardens. We know there are people who can’t afford housing who are living in converted garages. We know there are people living in illegal secondary suites or couch surfing or other insecure housing situations.”

And that’s what the study and plan will attempt to address.

Along with the $30,000 from Island Health, the City of Campbell River has also contributed $20,000 to the project, and some on council would like to see other communities that will benefit from the plan chip in, as well.

“This is a regional study,” Coun. Charlie Cornfield said after King’s presentation to council about the plan Monday night. “Have any of the other communities contributed?”

King confirmed that they had not.

“Island Health has contributed the majority stake, the City of Campbell River has contributed, and there are some regional district funds that have been used to support my position, but no other communities have come forward with funds.”

Cornfield also expressed concern that an online survey may not be accessible for some – if not many – of the people they are trying to reach in doing the study. But King said while they expect the majority of the responses to come through via that survey, they are also circulating physical copies to various service providers and agencies people struggling will make use of, as well as doing verbal interviews both on the ground at those service-provider facilities and at an upcoming community forum.

Mayor Andy Adams thanked King for her work on the project and her presentation to council, adding that he thinks the city is doing what it can to help, having “in excess of 300 rental units either approved or currently in construction for all ranges – from high-end apartments to designated affordable housing – so I think we’re really stepping up to address the capacity issue,” and he anticipates that will continue, since addressing housing affordability, he says, is “a strategic priority for this council.”