san juan islands

Photo: Patrick McNally/Flickr

A small non-profit organization has imported old homes from Victoria, BC to provide affordable housing for low-income locals on the San Juan Islands. The San Juan Community Home Trust discovered that the cost of transporting old homes across the Haro Strait from Canada and restoring them is comparable to the cost of building new homes on the islands. The New York Times reports that the finished homes will cost buyers from $160,000 to $210,000. Purchasers include a hospital worker, several teachers and a massage therapist. The whole project is made possible through a combination of donated land, government and foundation grants and local fundraising.

Low- and moderate-income locals have struggled to find affordable housing on the San Juan Islands in Seattle’s skyrocketing real estate market. Many affluent Seattleites are purchasing vacation homes on the San Juans, driving prices up to the $500,000 level. Meanwhile, the fishing, shipping and agriculture jobs that once supported the islands’ middle-class economy have fallen by the wayside in recent years, exacerbating the problem, states The New York Times.  

Fortunately, new environmental regulations in Canada have made it easier to import houses than ever before. The cost of tearing down an old house in Canada, then sorting out hazardous materials and dumping the remains, has become so expensive that exporting homes has become an appealing alternative to developers. On the other side, environmentally conscious Pacific Northwest philanthropists love the idea of reusing and recycling to support a low-income population, so fundraising efforts have been very successful.

The mid-20th century homes from Victoria suffered some damage in transit. They are currently sitting on steel I-beams and wooden blocks while concrete foundations are poured, according to The New York Times. Is importing homes from Canada to the San Juans a new affordable housing trend or just a one-hit wonder? If all goes well with restoration efforts and funders see the product of their good work, this could be the wave of the future.

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