By Courtney Oldwyn
At last week’s Public Hospital District meeting a proposal was made by Windermere owner Gary Franklin to turn the old Inter-Island Medical Center into short-term dormitory type housing for the island’s many summer employees who are in desperate need of rental accommodations. This proposal is in the beginning stages of planning and the hospital district has many valid reservations at this point, mainly concerning the timeline of having the building ready to be lived in by this summer. But this kind of outside-the-box thinking concerning the housing crisis, which also affects year-round island families, is just what we need if we’re going to find any solutions to this huge problem.
Numerous local businesses are facing the summer season understaffed as Journal reporter Jimmy Roller wrote in his May 25 edition story, “Dealing with the housing crisis.” Business owner Hobbes Buchanan is unable to open his new restaurant due to lack of employees. The crew of 15 construction workers hired to replace the town’s water pipeline this summer are considering spending four months tent camping because they have found no available housing.
Lack of reasonably priced housing is also affecting long time islanders. Well-known residents Bill and Rita Ament recently sent out a community-wide plea for a new home after losing their long term rental.
If we are to survive as a community and not become just an island resort where workers are shipped to and from the mainland everyday we need creative thinkers, like Mr. Franklin, who can bring new ideas to the table.
Change is hard for a lot of islanders (we still hear people refer to Marketplace as Mark & Pak!) but we must find a way to balance our tourist based economy and our family oriented sense of community. At the current pace, how long will it be before nobody really “lives” here?
We need support from local organizations and a government that is willing to put our future as a true community, supported by hard working island families before a future as a resort town. We applaud groups, such as the Tiny Houses Committee that is pressing for legal zoning of tiny, moveable, pre-built homes, and the San Juan Community Trust which has been barging in homes set for demolition from B.C. Also the many legitimate property management businesses that require its vacation rental homes be legally permitted. We need government officials like County Councilman Rick Hughes, who has pledged his support for organizations willing to take on the opportunity, to fix this community need. We need the island families who are the roots of this community to make their voices heard, express their opinions and fight for the community we love and village we’ve chosen to raise our children in.