B.C. float home residents live dream life on the water

The provincial government doesn't want to encourage more of these communities, despite a lot of interest from buyers about this unique form of housing.

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      Doug Taylor swears by the view from his home.

      “Oh, my goodness,” Taylor says about the Vancouver skyline, especially at night. “It’s just beautiful.”

      Taylor lives on a float home on Burrard Inlet with his wife, Jewel, in North Vancouver.

      Moreover, Taylor works as a realtor, and his listings include float homes.

      As someone who has lived in one since 2012, he can tell clients from personal experience about the joys of living on the water.

      Taylor’s float home is at the Creek Marina and Boatyard. The Squamish Nation owns the marina, and the float-home village was established in 2010.

      The village is one of a few in B.C.

      In a separate interview, Kelly McCloskey noted that developing new ones hasn’t been easy.

      McCloskey is a resident at Ladner Reach Marina and the president of the Floating Home Association of B.C. (FHABC).

      He said that the B.C. government has a long-standing policy of not encouraging new communities. “Their official policy is no new floating-home community developments,” McCloskey told the Straight by phone.

      The view from the water of Fisherman's Wharf.
      Sandy McKellar

      He explained that this is a huge hurdle because the B.C. government owns most of the province’s foreshore at streams, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Foreshore areas consist of the land between low and high water.

      “We’ve approached the government and asked them to revisit and revise that policy because today’s floating-home communities are very vibrant,” McCloskey said.

      A January 21, 2019, version of the province’s policy defines a float home as a “structure built on a floatation system”. It is “used for permanent residential habitation and is not intended for navigation, nor usable as a navigable craft”.

      Meanwhile, a float-home community “includes two or more floating homes that are physically connected to the shoreland and to each other by a common walkway or ramp”. It is “serviced by a potable water system, electrical system, and sewage disposal system approved by the responsible authority”.

      “Applications for floating home community use of aquatic Crown land will not be accepted,” the policy states.

      Provincial policy discourages the creation of communities like this.
      Sandy McKellar

      The province defines aquatic Crown land as “all the land, including the foreshore, from the high water mark out to the limits of provincial jurisdiction”.

      However, a regional executive director with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, which is the agency responsible for implementing the policy, “may accept a written proposal from a proponent”.

      The policy provides that such a proposal should have the support of local government.

      FHABC secretary and spokesperson Sandy McKellar spoke with the Straight on the same call as McCloskey. McKellar said there are about 800 float homes across the province.

      She recalled that the province’s policy of not encouraging new communities started sometime in the 1990s.

      “There isn’t a definitive paragraph that they can hand you,” McKellar said, when asked how the B.C. government justifies the policy.

      However, McKellar thinks it may have something to do with the early float homes that were associated with logging and fishing camps. The homes were towed from one location to another.

      “They were, essentially, water squatters,” McKellar said.

      In contrast, McKellar noted that today’s homes stay in one location and are hooked up to utilities, especially sewage.

      “A floating home is connected to an address, and it stays there,” McKellar said.

      Cowichan Bay has a community of colourful float homes.
      Sandy McKellar

      McCloskey said the FHABC does not promote float homes as an “entry level” form of housing. He explained that although the homes generally cost less than a land-based house, they come with moorage fees that some may find quite high.

      For example, the moorage fee of a home for sale at the Sea Island Village Marina on Granville Island in Vancouver amounts to $941 per month. Taylor listed the 4-1301 Johnston Street property with an asking price of $1,295,00. He said in the interview that he has received offers for the two-bedroom residence.

      The Straight asked McCloskey if there is a case to be made about the need for more float-home communities as part of discussions around housing in general.

      McCloskey said the argument for this is mainly about increasing the current limited opportunities for those who want a lifestyle connected with this form of housing.

      “There’s tiny homes, too, and tiny homes will never drive a tremendous amount of supply to the market. But as a component, tiny homes play a role, and so I think floating homes fit very much into that same kind of diversified opportunity.”

      These floating homes are at Ladner Reach.
      Sandy McKellar

      In North Vancouver, Taylor recalled that he and his wife bought their first float home after their three children moved out.

      “I was cutting the grass and the hedges and, you know, maintaining a house, and we decided we’d like to travel and do some bit of a different lifestyle,” Taylor related.

      The couple purchased their first float home in 2012 at the Creek Marina and Boatyard. They later sold that one and acquired another. Last year, they moved into another one, also in the same marina.

      “It’s a very relaxing lifestyle,” Taylor said. “When you come down onto the water, you feel like you’ve left the city. So I tell people it’s sort of like living at the cottage or a vacation home all year long.”