By David Conners

“Why do you need Habitat for Humanity on the Sunshine Coast? Isn’t everyone quite well-off there? Can’t they already afford a home?”

I was catching up with a friend of mine who lives in a city far away from our (sometimes) sunny shores when she made these comments. And she is partially correct. We live in a place where people hardly even blink when houses sell for a million dollars or more.

An unusually high percentage of Sunshine Coast residents are retired. Many are reaping the benefits of a lifetime of hard work. Others took the money and ran after making a killing on Vancouver’s booming real estate market. So sure, we look pretty comfortable here. My friend’s perception is probably shared by many.

Just don’t tell that young couple working at the hospital, or in home care, or at the golf course, or in construction, or at your favourite restaurant how comfortable we are. They can barely afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment despite working multiple jobs.

Just don’t tell the business owner struggling to find workers how easy we have it. Many have had to reduce their hours, close departments and scale back their plans because the employees they need simply can’t afford to live here.

“We could hire 15 more people right on the spot,” say the owners of one Sechelt business who wish to remain anonymous, “but the workers just aren’t here.”  The owners go to great length to keep the workers they do find. “We start them at $12 per hour, above minimum wage. We let them choose their own shifts.” They occasionally even take home and launder their employees’ uniforms.

“Oh, gosh, tons of jobs go unfilled,” says Vicki Pilot, associate program director for WorkBC in Sechelt, “because businesses simply can’t find workers.

“We can attract people here, but there is nowhere for them to live.”

When Pilot relocated here from Kelowna six weeks ago, “all I could find was a room to rent. There were lineups just to rent rooms. It’s ironic, isn’t it. I came here to take a job helping other people find jobs so they could stay on the Sunshine Coast, and even I couldn’t find a place to live.”

Lucy Clark, a job developer for WorkBC, says the employment centre in Sechelt has 86 jobs posted right now. “Honestly, if you are here on the Sunshine Coast and want a job, there is no reason why you should not be working.” However, she says there are three major factors that make filling those jobs difficult: Lack of affordable housing; the high cost of living; and the hourly wages.

Minimum wage in B.C. is $11.35,  but even if that wage rises to $20, the math still doesn’t work for attracting and keeping workers on the coast. Full time work gives you about 2,000 hours a year, which gives an annual income of $40,000. Government guidelines say a family should pay no more than 30 per cent of its income on housing. That works out to $1,000 per month in the budget for housing — and good luck finding a one-bedroom suite for that price.

Under the Habitat for Humanity Sunshine Coast model, families put in 500 sweat equity hours and assume an interest-free mortgage on a three-bedroom home capped at 30 per cent of the household income. This means a young family working in tourism or home care or the service industry can break the poverty cycle through affordable home ownership.

So, yes. We do need Habitat for Humanity on the Sunshine Coast. We need it in order to attract and keep young, hardworking families. We need it because a vibrant community is made up of more than well-heeled retirees and real-estate millionaires.  Supporting Habitat for Humanity is really supporting yourself.

Gala great way to show your support

Potato martini?? Yeah, we didn’t know what that is either, until we started putting our menu together for our annual fall gala. It’s fancy mashed potatoes served in a martini glass with gourmet toppings and, if you like, a shot of vodka.

It is one of several food stations we are planning for our Black and White Soiree Nov. 4.

Not only will you be able to tip back a potato martini or two, you can also enjoy several other food stations, including oysters, sturgeon canapes, sliders, BBQ skewers and lobster bisque in a champagne flute.

Why are we serving dinner in a glass? Because we want people to meet and mingle, just like at a cocktail party. There will be no formal place settings at crowded tables. You will be free to work the room, show off your outfit, peruse our silent auction tables and position yourself to make the winning bid on some fabulous live auction prizes.

Local businesses have already come through for us in a big way. Donated items for the auctions range from plants to golf packages to Whistler getaways to loads of prime topsoil and gravel from Salish Soils and Lehigh Materials. We’ve got handcrafted treasures from Sunshine Coast artists, gift certificates to the coast’s finest restaurants — we’ve even got a $1,000 voucher for electrical work from Olson Electric. More than 50 businesses have already shown their support and the list is growing daily. See habitatsc.ca for more details.

We hope to see you at the gala!

Habitat for Humanity Sunshine Coast Black and White Soirée

When: Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.

Where: Blue Ocean Golf Course

What you get: Several delightful and unique food stations; complimentary bubbly, three drink tickets, including a unique Habitat cocktail served by ice luge; free chocolates from the Sunshine Coast’s finest chocolatiers; a $20 emergency back-up light from Sengled Canada and the chance to bid on fabulous prizes in our silent and live auctions. A lot more is being planned, so check our webpage frequently.

Price: $95 per person, which includes a $25 charitable donation to Habitat for Humanity Sunshine Coast. Visit the ReStore, call 604-885-6737 for tickets, or click here.