Cortes Island senior Hanyu Wasyliw is in no hurry to unpack the boxes after her latest move.

The 77-year-old is settling into her new digs at her leisure because, for once, she’s not going anywhere.

“I do not intend to pack up and move ever again, God willing,” she said laughing.

Wasyliw is one of the residents moving into new housing at the Cortes Island Seniors Village, which provides stable, affordable units so older residents can age in place among family and friends.

Cortes Island, with about 1,000 year-round residents, is wedged between the B.C. mainland and Vancouver Island.

Permanent, affordable rental housing on the small island is scarce, so many residents rent recreational properties on a temporary basis, Wasyliw said.

Each summer, the senior would move out of her rental for a month when her landlord arrived.

“I would usually go visit family, my kids or couch-surf with friends,” Wasyliw said, adding she considered herself lucky because many other residents have nowhere to live for the entire summer.

But her landlord was also looking to sell the property.

“I knew that I needed something more permanent, so I'm very happy to have secured one of these units,” Wasyliw said.

“I'm very fortunate and have lots of gratitude.”

“I do not intend to pack up and move ever again, God willing,” says Hanyu Wasyliw, 77, of the move into her new rental cottage at the non-profit Cortes Island Seniors Village.
Additional cottages at the Cortes Island Seniors Village are complete and residents are able to age in place in their community. Photo courtesy of Cortes Island Seniors Society

An expansion of the seniors village (with assistance from the province and BC Housing) was recently completed, adding two new cottages and a duplex, said Sandra Wood, housing project co-ordinator with the Cortes Island Seniors Society (CISS).

Residents began moving into the units at the end of last year, Wood said.

There are now 10 homes for seniors in the complex, which is walking distance to the island’s medical clinic and the village of Mansons Landing, she added.

“It’s great that we’re all done and everybody is moved in,” Wood said.

However, the new units are not enough to meet the demand fuelled by the housing crisis on Cortes, she said.

“Some of the people moving in have been on the waiting list since we first built the village in 2009,” Wood said.

The dire lack of rental housing on Cortes doesn’t only affect seniors, but young families, single parents and single renters, too.

Rural properties on Cortes tend to be large and expensive, so lots of people resort to living in campers or RVs to have more permanent housing.

But this option can be especially hard on families or people as they get older, she said.

The CISS applied in January to BC Housing for funding to build another project, called Rainbow Ridge, for residents of all ages to address the ongoing rental crunch, Wood said.

The 20 units will be built on land adjacent to the village site.

The society has already secured the land and has done a lot of the pre-development and planning work on the project, she said.

And rezoning for the property was secured in November, allowing the society to make the BC Housing funding cutoff in January.

“We think we have a really strong proposal, but we're waiting to hear back and hoping to get an indication sometime this spring,” said Wood.

Wasyliw is pleased she can stay on Cortes, where she has spent the better part of 44 years.

She loves that her little cottage faces the forest, providing a window on the island’s wildlife.

She also appreciates being able to remain independent and stay on the island rather than moving away to the city and perhaps a seniors home, especially during the pandemic.

“This is the most amazing community for taking care of people,” Wasyliw said of the fundraising and work done by residents and the CISS to make the housing project a reality.

“We have a lot of good people here, and I don't want to be anywhere else.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer