I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!
Nah, well that is true, but I am not going there today….This is a positive opinion to shed light on Housing and Climate solutions that are gaining traction. We have great ideas, and we have great elected leaders who really care and want action and we have great staff who mean well. We need to put it all together in a meaningful way to achieve sustainable results.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Rhonan Heitzmann. I first moved to the island in 1983 at 9 years old. Man things have changed since then! I remember selling puzzles and comic books off a card table in the gravel parking lot that is now the Saturday market. Artisans and farmers lived simply and shared their wares, people often living in small cabins and simple homes that were non-conforming. It was a funky place in the 90’s with lots of music and art and crafts people. Our community was diverse, with hard working creative people who care about the environment and an often spiritual way of life.
I wound up moving away to study and then lived in France for 6 years, working in the field of ecological building with my amazing wife, and saw the world through a different cultural lens. We decided to move back here to start our family and be part of the amazing ecologically and spiritually evolved community where I had the fortune to grow up. But things had changed, a lot. More and more people bringing more wealth to buy up lots in paradise. It was hard to find a place to live in 2012…we wound up fixing an old 400 square foot cabin on a friend’s property and made a home….where our daughter was born. A beautiful little low impact, non-conforming home sheltered her first years. I realized lately that I never lived in a legal building here in all my adult years until recently. I am grateful for our tradition of anarchy that has allowed our community to become what it is. Many of our suggested solutions seek to legalize what has always been traditionally done here to house people….small cabins and suites providing alternative, affordable homes, and acting as mortgage helpers for others.
After the referendum, I decided to try to help find solutions to the housing crisis as it combined my interests of ecological building and water. I found out about a report written by the Islands Trust in 2003 with “New Solutions for the Housing Crisis” It was chock full of planning tools available to local offices to help retain young working families and a diverse community, recognizing the need for smaller homes with suggestions like secondary dwelling infill into the already existing rural sprawl, with suites and cottages, coop and co-housing, density transfers to preserve forests Home Plate concepts, inspiring our suggestion of an Eco-Village zoning model.
It is incumbent for sustainable planning to enact these solutions at a scale that meets the intense need of our shattering community. Since 2003, another couple dozen reports repeat the message but the only new planning change has been a pilot project to allow some suites in targeted areas, a noble effort that has largely failed. The lack of meaningful action amounts to an attitude of “Crisis? What Crisis?” Status quo procedure and excuses are not enough! We need to be bold and face up to the reality of the need and plan accordingly. The status quo will bring us thousands more homes on large lots, none of which will be inhabited by anyone of working class. As current service professionals who own their homes retire and sell, the next generation cannot take their place…. Who will serve our Island’s needs? Working families who own their own homes are the bedrock of a healthy community. Over the next 10 to 20 years we are facing total collapse. Our community will be sunk long before the sea level rises.
My 6 year old daughter said to me just the other day, ”Dad, one of my friends from school had to leave the island cause her dad couldn’t find a house… Dad, if people can’t find houses will I have any friends left to play with?”
I'm writing today so that there is a community for her when she grows up and that she and her generation will be able to have a place to live.
I dream that we will solve this situation and that in 20 years we will have a climate resilient, diverse, young and creative community, a culture of secondary and affordable dwellings, clusters of low impact homes where people can share tools, vehicles and resources and farm together to produce a majority of our own fresh produce all the while preserving large tracts of land for undisturbed natural habitat. A culture where permaculture farming and ecological building are common practice. A place where everyone harvests and uses rainwater to slow the demand on our traditional water sources. I dream that the schools, and hospitals stay open and that multiple generations can share the land or elderly can chose to downsize to a suite or cottage on their own land to rent their larger house to a younger family. I dream that instead of monster houses we build eco-hamlets and that large houses conform to the Living Building Challenge, and thus will be among the most ecological and socially responsible mansions in the world. I dream of a sustainable community with a balanced ecology and economy, a beacon to the region and the world, inspiring those who visit here to do the same.
The Islands Trust Can! Show us the Plan!