British Columbia

Amidst Tofino's housing crisis, First Nation builds homes for desperate workers

How bad is Tofino’s housing crunch? Just the other day, Mayor Josie Osbourne met a young man who said he’s essentially been living in a hammock for the last year.

21 newly built shipping container homes will be available for rent on Tla-o-qui-aht land this summer

Crew member Jon David works on one of 21 new housing units built out of shipping containers that will be available to rent this summer on Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation land near Tofino. (Gabriel Teo/CMHC)

How bad is Tofino's housing crunch? Just the other day, Mayor Josie Osborne met a young man who said he's essentially been living in a hammock for the last year.

"He's got it all worked out and he seems happy, but is that really suitable and is that really the way someone is going to want to live in the long term? Of course it isn't," Osborne told CBC News.

The district's latest estimate, from 2015, shows that close to 300 seasonal workers were in need of suitable housing — about 20 per cent of the summer workforce.

That's why Osborne is so excited about a new project by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation that turns shipping containers into rental homes.

"It's really fantastic," she said.

Matthew Seitcher is the foreman on the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation's new shipping container housing project. (Matthew Seitcher)

Twenty-one units on the nation's reserve just outside of town should be ready to welcome tenants this summer. They'll be available to rent for workers and band members through the Tla-o-qui-aht housing department, at what's been described as affordable rates.

Matthew Seitcher, the nation's public works manager and foreman on the container project, said the homes are desperately needed.

"There's a massive housing shortage out here in Tofino and the peninsula. It's incredibly hard to find anything that's affordably rentable. People come out here and they work, and it's basically working just to live," Seitcher said.

The new structures include four two-storey eight-plexes designed to house seasonal tenants. There are also five single-family homes with two or three bedrooms that average about 1,200 square feet.

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation project includes two units made of eight containers each. (Gabriel Teo/CMHC)

Right now, they're about 70-per-cent done, thanks to a year of work from a crew of Tla-o-qui-aht community members trained through a six-week program at North Island College, sponsored by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Seitcher said the team has worked out "incredibly well," even though there was a bit of a learning curve as everyone figured out how to match up classic stick-framing with the metal containers.

"Some of the guys have been working in carpentry for years, but it's typical stick-framing for them," Seitcher said.

"Some of the younger guys, they were fairly fresh. It's slow at the beginning, but it's certainly picked up its pace. That's just as well because they got the bugs out and figured out how things are going to attach properly."

There are also five single-family homes constructed from four containers each. (Gabriel Teo/CMHC)

But he pointed out that the container homes will only help a small number of people affected by the housing crisis.

"I think we'd like to do more building in the future, for sure," he said.

The District of Tofino is currently in talks with the Nation about expanding the project in the future, perhaps on a piece of land the Tla-o-qui-aht own within the town's limits, Osborne said.

If you are interested in housing affordability, check out CBC's new podcast, SOLD! Host Stephen Quinn explores how foreign investment in real estate divides community, class and culture. Find it at CBC Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.