Tuesday, February 27, 2024
February 27, 2024

Letter: Small dwellings not the villain


In this newspaper and elsewhere, Maxine Leichter continues to make strong, yet false, statements on housing and the environment that can’t be left unaddressed. (“Protection goals sabotaged,” Jan. 19 Viewpoint.)

First, every housing advocate I know, and every trustee, is a hard-core environmentalist. All trustees take protection of this special place seriously, as does the unique conservation mandate of the Trust Act, which has world-regarded protections built into its core. Suggesting our environmental protections are “a mirage” and that trustees “favour development” as they seek to balance other community concerns creates unnecessary fear and simply has no basis in reality. 

Second, our island’s official population has barely grown since 2000 (2001 population: 9,279. Today: under 11,000). Raising fears about thousands flooding our shores is a tired trope almost as old as Salt Spring, but for a variety of what should now be fairly obvious reasons, it’s just not happening. 

Third, small suites and cottages are not being built en masse. Rather, hundreds have left the rental pool to become short-term vacation rentals. With the cost of building so high, along with severe water considerations, even the Trust’s first step into legalizing more small dwellings is hardly going to lead to “thousands” of new buildings, as is claimed.  

Small dwellings are not only not being built, they are also not the environmental villain. The real development pressure on this island today is for more new-build large-footprint high end homes, usually on cleared land, far from town, with water-intensive gardens. 

The island’s embattled workforce is not going to ruin Salt Spring island, and advocating for regular people to be able to stay in the place they have built is no threat to any of our deeply held environmental values. 

I sometimes wonder if those who continue to see villainy in sustainably housing our modest workforce are themselves so overwhelmed with climate grief they are blind to the complexity of the issue. People should get help for their legitimate trauma at the state of the world, but stop taking it out on our small community. We are literally fighting to make ourselves more resilient to the many oncoming disasters we will continue to face. I shudder at the brittle place we will become with no on-island workforce left.

The writer is a member of Salt Spring Solutions.

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  1. Thank you for this. The idea that affordable housing poses a development threat to the islands has always puzzled me. There is and I’m sure will continue to be very little affordable housing (which is typically small scale and highly regulated to minimize environmental impact) compared to private market-based homes (which tend to be large, resource-intensive, and less regulated) on the Trust islands. Also, tourism is having a FAR bigger environmental and community impact than affordable housing. I say bring on the day when we have to slow down because our islands are truly in danger of being over-run with affordable housing. And if that day comes, I think we would slow down!


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