District of Ucluelet, B.C. launches pilot project to allow van dwellers

·3 min read
The District of Ucluelet is looking to expand housing options for seasonal workers by allowing property owners to obtain permits, so people in mobile homes or other vehicles can legally camp on their land. (Ana Young - image credit)
The District of Ucluelet is looking to expand housing options for seasonal workers by allowing property owners to obtain permits, so people in mobile homes or other vehicles can legally camp on their land. (Ana Young - image credit)

The District of Ucluelet is taking a new approach to housing for seasonal workers.

The community, along with the local chamber of commerce, is launching a six-month pilot project allowing property owners and businesses to apply for "temporary use permits" that will make it legal for seasonal workers to live in mobile homes or vehicles on designated properties.

"It will help fill a need. In the summer, we need a lot of workers for a short amount of time." said Ian Riddick, a chef and the owner of Heartwood Kitchen and Shipwreck Pizza in Ucluelet.

Riddick says he is planning to apply for a permit.

"Tourism towns attract a nomadic individual, and they bring a lot of spirit and energy and make our community extremely vibrant," he said.

But as property prices climb higher and higher on the west coast of Vancouver Island and working remotely becomes more popular and feasible, Riddick says the housing stock that used to be available for seasonal staff is disappearing, and with it, the workers necessary to make businesses like his work.

Safety first

In the past, a temporary use permit would take many months to process and would cost $500 to advertise, in addition to the $350 permitting fee, according to Laurie Filgiano, the executive director of the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce.

With the new pilot program, Filgiano says they are able to reduce the processing time to weeks and the fee to a flat $350.

"We have a tremendous amount of people who live on the back roads during the summer, because we just don't have enough housing," said Filgiano. "But this program is a way for people to camp legally and safely."

Filgiano says safety is a top priority.

The prerequisites for a permit include applicants consulting with their neighbours, developing an outline of how they will deal with sewage and providing fire extinguishers and battery powered smoke detectors. In addition, following approval, all mobile dwellings will be inspected by the fire chief.

Staff will need to be vigilant, says mayor

But challenges remain.

Mayor Mayco Noël says district staff will have to be vigilant to make sure the permits they issue now are not misused for short term rentals.

"There are always going to be a small percentage that want to find a creative way to generate income." said Noël.

To help address that, there is a minimum residency requirement of 30 days for anyone participating in the program.

Even so, the mayor says he expects some residents to raise concerns around noise and density. He says those are important issues that they are trying to weigh with the need for seasonal workers.

"At the end of this term, we will put a questionnaire to the community asking about the good and the bad," he said.

The pilot project is a first of it's kind and is being watched closely by other communities, like Tofino and Squamish, that also contend with large van dwelling populations.

Landowners and businesses in Ucluelet interested in participating in the program have until April 16 to fill out an application.