Finding Home: Island couple leaves due to housing shortage

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By AINA YASUÉ

With a combined 30 years of residency on Salt Spring, Kate McWilliams and Laurent Boucher recently moved off-island, leaving behind their community, to ensure a more secure and affordable life. 

Kate worked in office management for nearly a decade until a progressive illness forced her to rely on disability benefits. Laurent is a musician and teacher, who took on construction and carpentry work over the past few years as paying students and opportunities to play live music dried up. 

Lack of accessible housing was a significant part of their decision to leave. 

Kate notes, “The concept of being able to stay or buy anything was impossible. It was hard to imagine a real future, even though we’d been there for so long.” Here, 60 per cent of Kate’s income and over 40 per cent of Laurent’s income went to housing costs. 

Not only were they faced with a lack of affordability, they were also making sacrifices when it came to health needs. Kate’s progressive illness will eventually lead her to be wheelchair dependent. She explains that there was no available accessible housing, or even housing that allowed for a service animal. “Long-term accessible housing for the disabled pretty much doesn’t exist. There are very few units. It’s impossible to get one.” Even with Laurent’s capacity to customize a home for Kate’s mobility needs, they couldn’t afford a patch of land. 

Another reason for their departure is the decline in opportunities for musicians. Laurent says 20 years ago there were many more live music venues and studios, and musicians were paid more then. He played several nights a week in the summertime, with Sunyata and Acoustic Planet Music, which usually drew a crowd of locals. Laurent recalls how, moved by the live music, people of all ages danced, ate and socialized in true Salt Spring fashion.  Only a few of the venues, including the Tree House, Moby’s and Shipstones, remain. As for teaching, Acoustic Planet Music as well as his own home studio drew many local students where Laurent taught about 25 hours a week. In recent years, as the cost of living increased, Kate and Laurent noticed Salt Springers couldn’t support the arts as readily as they had in the past. 

They are concerned about younger folks who rely on intergenerational wealth to live here. Laurent feels this negatively impacts the community. “When young people have a future and can hope and dream, and think of buying a home . . . there is a certain energy that is generated that kind of infiltrates everything.” 

At the end of May, Kate and Laurent said goodbye to their friends and family, including Laurent’s two adult children who are staying, despite precarious housing. For an island that prides itself on a thriving artistic community, their departure leaves an absence that will be profoundly felt by many. 

The above piece is the second in a series of profiles of islanders  who are impacted by the lack of affordable housing, compiled and written by Aina Yasué of Salt Spring Solutions.

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