Lions Hall was filled to capacity Thursday as a standing-room-only crowd turned out to the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee meeting to share thoughts on the island’s dire lack of housing.
The unusually large turnout for the town hall portion of the meeting came as a result of a call from a group called Islanders for Housing Action. Regular trustee reports, delegations and the town hall format itself were set aside to allow those attending to speak.
“We really appreciate you taking the time to be here to share your thoughts with us, because as a community we can make things better,” Salt Spring trustee Peter Grove said in an opening statement.
Participants were given two minutes each to speak, and testimony filled an hour of time.
Noting the hall had reached its maximum crowd of 110 participants, LTC chair Peter Luckham suggested that some might leave after speaking in order to allow more people to participate.
Rhonan Heitzmann, one of the key organizers of the housing action group, laid out the basics of the situation as the first to take the microphone.
“The housing crisis is extremely severe and is affecting not just low-income workers but middle-income workers, seniors and farmers and businesses as well,” Heitzmann said. “The situation has been building for years, documented by the LTC’s own reports going back at least to 2003, yet few of the recommendations of those reports have been acted upon … There is no sustenance of island character, or healthy community, if working people filling essential services are living in cars, shacks with no running water, and seniors that were born here, been living here for 40 years, are forced to leave the only place they call home.”
Heitzmann concluded the crisis requires strong leadership and emergency action “beyond the status quo.”
Many participants spoke to their personal difficulties finding and keeping rental housing, and asked the LTC to shape its land-use policies in a way to facilitate more legal dwellings, such as by increasing density and pulling back from the enforcement of illegal but long-term living arrangements, and conversely to step up enforcement of short-term vacation rental situations.
For more on this story, see the April 25, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.