Community Articles
Go to Site Index See "Community Articles" main page
General News · 20th September 2018
Hayley Newell
Thank you to everyone who came to the Town Hall meeting on Thursday, September 13th. This project feels like the most important island initiative since we pulled off the miracle of the Health Centre. Even if you were unable to attend the Town Hall, this summary will update you on the latest developments. This project belongs us all and the benefits of it will be ours as a community.

Bear with us - it's long!

Town Hall Summary

Noba and David began the meeting with a power point presentation outlining the project from inception to where we are today. To recap, 51 acres of land has been purchased in the heart of Mansons Landing. The land was purchased through a joint effort between the Cortes Island Seniors Society (CISS) and the Cortes Island Foundation (CIF).

The Cortes Island Foundation was created with a mandate to foster a culture of giving. The foundation's job is to create a strategic plan for donated funds. The goal is to secure an endowment and fund a wide-range of emergent community needs with a focus on interconnected island wide projects. The first project that the foundation is supporting with its fundraising ability is Cortes Community Housing.

To date, over 100 community members have contributed a total of $1.4 million of our $1.7 million fundraising goal, this includes $188,000 that was pledged during our July 14th fundraiser, plus approximately $600K in community backed low interest loans, and another $600K in cash donations -- no banks have been involved!

The majority of those funds were used to purchase 51 acres of land, the title of which is held by the Cortes Island Seniors Society (CISS). There is an additional 2.6 acres of land that is being operated by the Cortes Island Business & Tourism Association (CIBATA), which is zoned for commercial use (local business enterprises, retail, offices, etc).

The Housing Committee (HC) is a subcommittee of the CISS. It is charged by both CISS/CIF to envision, fund and execute this bold housing initiative. The members are:
Elizabeth Anderson (CISS liaison)
David Rousseau (CIF liaison)
Noba Anderson
Priya Huffman

Supported by staff:
Sandra Wood (project coordinator)
Ian Scott (development consultant)
Hayley Newell (admin assistant)

Why the Housing Project?

Our young families and singles cannot afford to buy into the current housing market, or secure a mortgage. There is also a lack of secure, year-round rental housing. When seniors need to downsize, they cannot find stable, year-round housing options. We are losing both our young and old to the housing crisis.

We already have 16 people on the waitlist for seniors housing here. Only 70% of Cortes homes are occupied by year-round residents (v.s. 90% BC average) and almost half of all tenants are paying more than 30% of their income on rent.

Strathcona Community Health did a study on the social determinants of health and looked at where housing gaps exist in our community and how best to address it within the regional context. The study found that more than 1/3 of Cortes residents spend more than 30% of income on rent, which is the highest in region. We are also at the bottom of the income levels in the region.

This study will be used to support our BC housing application.

The Plan So Far:

Phase 1 of the proposed plan is to build four more units in the existing seniors village, two 1-bedroom units and two 2-bedroom units. We need a water system upgrade to increase pressure & flow during peak use. The septic system already has sufficient capacity for four more units. As of August 2018 the Seniors Village was re-zoned to allow the maximum of 10 cottages on this property.

Phase 2 for the newly acquired 51 acres: The proposal for the second phase is to build 20 rental housing units to provide even MORE affordable year-round seniors & family housing to retain young families, individuals, and couples of all ages. We are still planning what this new neighbourhood will look like. Please come to the next workshop and/or public open houses and share your ideas and visions

How Many Houses? How Dense are we Talking?

We are using a “cluster and commons” planning concept. This means concentrating housing (and disturbances due to development) on a small area and retaining the rest in a natural multi-use state. This also enables shared septic and water systems, which are more affordable to build and operate.

We do not yet know how many houses we will be proposing on how much land. But we do know that the Phase II will probably be similar to the Seniors Village. As for the ultimate number on the entire 51 Acres; we just don’t know. That will be up to community-wide agreements of “carrying capacity” and to future generations.

Lake Stewardship and Sustainability:

Taking proper care of our beloved Hague Lake is important to everyone and this acreage does drain into the lake watershed. We are exploring a long term plan for rehabilitation and repairing the damage that the old logging road & ditches created by rerouting storm run off so that it is absorbed on the property. Having an advanced sewage treatment will support the lake by reusing the clean water for irrigation of trees, shrubs, and landscaping where the nitrogen can be absorbed on the property.

We plan to use geotechnical consultants & hydrologists to look at water flows, as well as building a partnership with FOCI to ensure we do no further harm, and instead improve the health of the lake ecosystem.

We are aiming to meet BC's highest standard of energy efficiency, and construct high quality, durable, low maintenance homes. There is lots of potential for innovative shared energy design (geothermal, solar) and green wastewater systems.We aim to create advanced water conservation, recycling and wastewater treatment systems. We can use local materials and services for the building itself, specifically for finishing work and value-added components. There will also be a focus on trails, wildlife corridors, forest rehabilitation and commons.

Phase 3 and beyond

Again, this land is being held in trust by the community. It is for us to decide together how to proceed through the rezoning process one step at a time.

We can decide together what we want to do. Some ideas are:

More housing options including housing co-op's or equity options like life-leases.
Commons: Parks, playgrounds, community garden, community kitchen, shared spaces, interconnecting trail systems, etc.
The adjoining commercial land could link in to housing in many ways, etc.

How will the Community Benefit?

Support a thriving and diverse island population
Local jobs for island mills, carpenters & trades
Keep our school viable with a growing number of kids
Opportunity to start educational apprenticeships
Maximizing use of local lumber from Cortes Community Forest and value-added woodworking
Kick-start our Local Economic Action Plan (LEAP)
Public walking trails to/from Manson’s Village

What are the Residency Requirements for living in this neighbourhood?

Housing for those who currently live OR have a long-term history with Cortes
Minimum residency rule of 3 years prior to applying for these rental homes
We have over 100 people on the new waiting list of whom 80% would meet the 3 year rule
For Cortes residents with low to moderate income levels as defined by BC Housing
Ability to get along with other residents and neighbours.

The people who have been here the longest & have the most financial need, will get a higher ranking as potential residents when they are interviewed.

Housing Management:

A new Cortes Housing Society is being formed in collaboration with the founding partners (CISS, CIF) that will build and manage the housing. There are many options to explore.

Next Steps:

We need to be proactive about water, waste, trees, roads, and site planning
Work at the community level and engage in visioning workshops and the design process
Rezoning the sites
Apply for government affordable housing grants
Construction and Occupancy!

Ways YOU can Help:

Be a DONOR: provide cash & building materials
Be an ADVISOR: share your professionals skills
Be a PARTNER: become a commercial tenant, open a retail shop, or office
Be a VOLUNTEER: join the Housing Committee, clear debris, buck firewood, guide land tours, build trails, host a fundraising event, display rack cards, provide machine time with trucks & excavators, be an ambassador.
Join the CISS: there is newsletter for those over 50 years!

New Neighbourhood Name:

Our community engaged whole-heartedly in the naming contest and we were delighted to collect approximately 80 names over the summer months. Thank you to everyone who put their creative minds to work on this task. Many of the names submitted reflected deep thoughtfulness and a love of this place we call home.

After the fundraiser we put the word out to the community that we were looking for a panel of judges that reflected diversity among Cortes Residents. That panel before the town hall and as a group we went from 80 names, to approximately 20 to 10 to a final 4 names.

We will be keeping a record of all the names submitted as many things will need to be named as this project unfolds. Here are the final 4 Names the panel landed on:

Rainbow Ridge
Plum Tree Village

The neighbourhood name that we voted for will become a working title and as a community we will try it on and see how it fits and wears with community use. Perhaps it will stick and perhaps it will morph.

Our project name, or working title, is one that captured our hearts because of what it represents. This project is a promise of home for people who may not have had one in a very long time, if ever. The rainbow, a symbol of promise, a dream come true, is also a global symbol of inclusively and diversity around the world. It brings imagery to mind about standing up for what we believe in (remember the Greenpeace boat, the rainbow warrior?). This name gave us a real feeling of place, as it captures the geography of the land and paints a vivid picture in our minds.

Thank you to Sue Ellingsen for submitting our winning name: Rainbow Ridge.

And thank you to our runners up: Mary-Jo and Peter Woolgar for Wildwood. We love this name for the system of interconnecting trails on this land.

Thank you to Priya Huffman for Plum Tree, we love that name for a park or playground and thank you to John Preston for Heartwood, perhaps a name for a future housing cluster.

Again, THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who participated! We are so thrilled will how much the community contributed to this process.

Open Q&A Period:

QUESTION: How will we pick who would be on the Cortes Housing Society (the organization managing the new housing)?
ANSWER: The people who are currently on the housing committee will form the new board at first, with new members added. Depending on which model is chosen (a corporation, society or charity) there will also likely be paid management positions created.

QUESTION: What is the existing population in “downtown” Mansons and how many people are we thinking of adding to this existing population?
ANSWER: All of these inhabitants will be people already living on Cortes so we are not increasing the overall population. We are proposing 20 new units so we are looking at approximately 40 people living in Rainbow Ridge. We cannot proceed without community buy in and support. We need re-zoning to make this happen which will go through the regional district to be voted on.

QUESTION: Can you be transparent on the consulting process? Who have you used for environmental assessments so far and why are you going off island for this consulting?
ANSWER: Need specific experts such as surveyors, hydrologists, and geotechnical engineers, who do not live here, but our preliminary ecological work has been done with local biologist Sabina Leader Mense.

QUESTION: Do you have to be 50 to be eligible for seniors housing?
CORRECTION: You can become a member of the Seniors Society at age 50, but according to the Seniors Village guidelines you have to be 55 before applying to live there. ALSO, under BC Housing guidelines, both seniors over the age of 55 and adults who have a disability but are able to live independently are eligible to live in units designated for senior tenants.

QUESTION: Not everyone will on the waitlist will be accommodated by Phase 1 and 2 of this project. Have we thought about the selection process?
ANSWER: Applicants must meet the residency requirements outlined earlier. Also not everyone will be ready to move all at once. There can be phase 3 and 4 ... we don' t know yet where the funding will come from, but we can look at lots of options as a community, for example co-op housing, affordable home ownership, life-leases etc.

QUESTION: You are promising local employment through this project, i.e. Local lumber use for framing and construction. These places have to be built to code, and the wood needs to be kiln dried and graded, so how can we make that promise? We don't have the infrastructure. I am concerned you are using this as a selling feature that you cannot back up.
ANSWER: There are people on island actively working to create a community woodworking centre with a kiln and shared tools for milling & creating value-added wood products, we’d like to buy their lumber. There are also people who would like to be trained to be local lumber graders. If we cannot buy local lumber for framing, then we certainly can buy high value local wood for trim & value-added finishing, which we did for the Seniors Village in the past.

QUESTION: I am confusion about who owns the 51 acres of land?
ANSWER: Land Title is held by the CISS who are holding it in trust for the community.

QUESTION: How much money is owing on the new land?
ANSWER: Outstanding loans to CISS for the 51 acres is $530,500 at 0-2% interest, with very flexible terms. These are Cortes residents who have loaned money. We plan to pay back some of these with BC housing grant funds, and some of the loans may be forgiven (converted into donations).

QUESTION: Is there a mortgage on the Seniors Village land?
ANSWER: Yes there are two; one is the original $380K BC Housing Grant, which is held as forgivable mortgage with $0 payments, the principle of which will be reduced every year as long as CISS continue to provide affordable housing in the Seniors Village for another 25 years. The second is $170K held by a bank arranged by BC Housing at a low interest rate, which is paid for with a portion of the cottage rental income.

QUESTION: Will we be on the hook for sales tax if we transfer the land?
ANSWER: We are not sure, which is why we are consulting with lawyers & accountants.

QUESTION: What zoning options are we looking at for the 51 acres?
ANSWER: We don't know yet. There are lots of options. Do we re-zone the whole thing, do we do it in chunks, we don't know yet. We are seeking legal and tax counsel on this too.

QUESTION: What sewage system is being planned?
ANSWER: We have started looking at permeability, soils, percolation test etc. Ron McMurtrie is our wastewater engineer for Rainbow Ridge, who did the work on the Seniors Village which is an advanced pump system. We are looking a aerobic digestion options as well. Overall, we are looking at high performance system in clusters so one system will treat a certain number of units.

QUESTION: Why do people on Cortes become seniors at 50?!
ANSWER: It started with a requirement to be 50 to join the CISS and then spread across the island.


Our next open architectural design workshop will be Oct 26th and 27th. Save the dates and stay tuned for details.

This is a community project. We need your ideas, engagement and suggestions to make this dream a reality. Email us at:

As ever, visit our website for news and the latest developments here:
More Answers
Comment by Sandra on 26th September 2018
ELIGIBLE AGE: When it comes to who should be allowed to live in the Seniors Village, BC Housing (who funded the building of the Seniors Cottages and holds the mortgage), has defined anyone aged 55 or over as being eligible to apply, which is honoured in the CISS Residency Guidelines regarding their potential tenant selection.

DONATIONS: Cash, loans, discounts, materials and volunteer time have been made from over 150 families/individuals/businesses/foundations, representing approximately 15% of the island population, ranging from children who have donated their $2 allowance to those who have loaned or gifted amounts up to $300,000 - each of them helping to secure land for this community. This is one way to make affordable housing for generations that will make a make a positive lasting impact. It is the amazing local support and commitment that gives us confidence that we can attract the required additional funding and financing from BC Housing or the Canada Housing & Mortgage Corporation (CMHC), who are supporting the development of affordable housing throughout BC and Canada.

LAND: Given how many thousands of both volunteers and paid hours, the many amazing gifts and grants that went into Rainbow Ridge to date -- and we still have a long way to go, we don’t expect any additional housing initiatives to be popping up in the foreseeable future. However given how responsive and pro-active this community is, should there be need and demand, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that someone would donate or buy land in either Squirrel Cove and/or Whaletown to replicate this model for the benefit of those who would rather rent an affordable home and remain in the communities they already love.

POPULATION: New rental housing is being built for those who already live here, for those who are unaffordably housed, under-housed, downsizing, or homeless in the summer when they have to move out.

VOTE: When it comes to rezoning the land, to accommodate the proposed cluster of 20 units in Rainbow Ridge, everyone gets a say. While it is the Rural Area Directors of the Strathcona Regional District that get to vote on approving our rezoning application (which we have not yet submitted), they listen to the community via emails, letters and comments made during the Public Hearing. We will continue to seek input from the community on our project plans and housing designs so that our rezoning proposal to the SRD includes housing that people on Cortes will be happy to live in, fits the character of Cortes, respects our neighbours and has a small environmental footprint. Our proposal also has to be fundable by entities like BC Housing, so we also have to consider and respect their guidelines and design modest homes that they will help finance the construction of.

CORTES CHARACTER: Change is happening everywhere on this planet, often due to forces beyond our control. We can lean in and choose to make the changes that serve this island in a positive way to ensure that vital sections of our existing population are housed and able to continue to live here.
Affordable Housing a Provincial Issue as well as a Local One
Comment by Lovena on 24th September 2018
There could be no better project to focus island resources (anonymous or otherwise) and time, than affordable housing. This is not just a local issue, but a provincial one as well. The housing crisis in BC is well known in every urban community, as well as many of the coveted rural island destinations. What are low and moderate incomes provincially would be incredibly high incomes here on Cortes and in fact, if this income was the norm for young families, middle age singles, and elder couples, we would not be in the position we are regarding a housing shortage. Many of us have managed to get creative and squeaked into the housing market, but that often comes with many sacrifices. These are different for everyone, but to name a few: lack of running water, hot water, having outhouse only, no power and/or living in tiny spaces for whole families. Over time, improvements are made and the initial sacrifices deemed worthy! Not everyone, however, has the money, skill set and/or wherewithal to make this happen. This is where the Community Foundation and Seniors Housing community visionaries stepped in. If something wasn't done soon, Cortes could have lost the 'working population', which would also accompany the loss of school age children, jeopardizing island businesses and our school. We are much better off with a diverse population contributing to the greater good of the whole. Thank you to everyone who has donated their time (a huge commitment from the Foundation and Noba!) and financial resources to this project. Both are golden and so appreciated. This act of kindness and goodwill will have a positive impact for decades to come!
I Don't Know
Comment by Patricia L on 23rd September 2018
I don't know whether to thank you or not for editing out the offensive comment from this report. Do we just pretend it wasn't said?
I do thank you for at least checking out the age requirement for the Senior's Village.
Who is behind this ?
Comment by George McKenzie on 23rd September 2018
I’d like to know who are the instigators pushing this project. Surely the $1.4 million raised so far wasn’t from selling muffins. Anonymous comments are not welcome but apparently anonymous donations are.
Checking the BC Housing website low and moderate incomes are $71,000 and $104,000 respectively. House prices still haven’t recovered from pre 2008 levels so I don’t see why some of these people can’t afford to buy inland property. Others with less incomes have.
I’m concerned that this community housing proposal wasn’t put to a vote. I’m also concerned that this group is planning similar developments in Squirrel Cove and Whaletown based on this model (from their website.)
This will change the nature of Cortes forever and will not solve the affordability problem as more people are bound to arrive and want to live here. Please reconsider.
With respect for your efforts
Comment by Patricia L on 21st September 2018
Question: ....."why 50 is considered senior?" (making reference to who will be able to live in houses deemed "for seniors")
The answer "They need people on the team who still have energy" is offensive. I am over 70 and still have lots of energy, many of my peers do to. Consider the board at the Museum, the volunteers at the free store, the people in the kitchens at community events, volunteer firefighters and ambulance crew. I think having 50 as the earliest one can apply for the seniors village is too low. We live in such close proximity that an age spread of 30 years is not cohesive. Please reconsider. Why not call it a Retirement Village with the age being 65 which is when people receive pensions.

Also I think something was left out of the answer to this question:

QUESTION: Can you be transparent on the consulting process? Who have you used for environmental assessments so far and why are you going off island for this consulting?
Answer: ........ but our preliminary ecological work has been done with local biologist Sabina Leader Mense.
What was also said said in response but didn't make it into this Town Hall Summary is that Sabina Leader Mense and Naturalist George Sirk worked together on the bird count of the area.