Housing council concept fails to fly for now

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The lack of affordable housing loomed large at last week’s Salt Spring Local Trust Committee meeting, despite not being on the formal agenda before the meeting began.   

Observing that the crisis and its impacts seem to deepen by the week, Salt Spring trustee Laura Patrick rustled around in the Islands Trust toolbox to see if there wasn’t something more the Trust could do to improve the situation. Patrick suggested that the LTC lead the revitalization of the long-dormant Salt Spring Housing Council, which was created in 2011 to address the shortage of affordable housing at that time. 

“I’ve talked to the housing advocates and I think we need to look at considering using the  delegated authority that we have to coordinate a housing council-like entity. There is a housing council on Salt Spring but it has been dormant. They don’t have funding. I was hoping the CRD would fund it but they haven’t so it’s sitting there.” 

Patrick explained that a housing council would be created under the same mechanism that spawned the  Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Alliance, a coordinating body funded through a special property tax levy. She put forth a motion that would have had Trust staff prepare a 2022-2023 business case that could be taken to Trust Council for approval in the next budget cycle.

“This is an option we have — to facilitate the housing council — and to let [the council] continue to not work isn’t helping the community at a time when the housing situation is not getting better, it’s just getting worse,” she said.

While fellow trustees Peter Grove and Peter Luckham said they supported the idea, they did not see it realistically happening anytime soon. 

Luckham was concerned that staff resources were not available for such a major project, and Trust regional planning manager Stefan Cermak confirmed that is the case. Cermak recommended putting it on the work program for the following year instead.

Grove said it was not practical to ask staff to invest time in a new project when considerable resources had already been put into the Housing Action Program Task Force (HAPTF), which was created earlier this year.

“I see this as changing horses in mid stream and with only a year left in our term.”  

He observed that the Trust always appears to have much more power than it actually does, and suggested the CRD and provincial government could have more impact on the housing file. 

“Let’s just do one thing at a time and hear what the Housing Action Program Task Force has to say,” said Grove.

At its Aug. 19 meeting, the task force compiled a series of specific suggestions for trustees to consider, but the minutes of the meeting were not included in last week’s agenda package. 

HAPTF chair Rhonan Heitzmann addressed the Oct. 5 meeting and was upset about the missing minutes until being assured their omission was simply due to a staff error.  

Elizabeth FitzZaland, a member of the Salt Spring Solutions group that has been working on the housing issue for the past few years, pressed the LTC at the same meeting to adopt the Aug. 19 HAPTF plan, which she articulated as: 

• Deferring bylaw enforcement against long-term use of commercial and seasonal accommodation;

• Updating the standing resolution regarding unlawful dwellings to provide greater security for residents who are currently living in these homes and have nowhere else to go;

• Developing procedures to expedite approvals and permitting for affordable, supportive and social housing projects;

• And updating secondary suites Bylaw 461 to enable suites on more properties island-wide.

But not all voices at last week’s meeting were promoting an increase in housing units for the island. 

Maxine Leichter, president of the Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society, made a delegation asking the LTC to not create a bylaw that would increase housing units on land zoned Agriculture 1 and 2, which is being considered. Leichter said too many additional densities had already been created through other bylaw changes that threatened to push the island over the 17,000 population limit set in the island’s official community plan. 

“To increase densities over what is allowed now will represent a further violation of our OCP, Trust policy and the Local Government Act,” she said.  

Also on the housing topic, Cermak shared results of a recent meeting with BC Housing officials, who stressed the importance of having land, water and zoning set for any projects they might fund. But the funding well is not a deep one, he noted. 

“They don’t think they can fund more than two projects in the whole Trust Area,” said Cermak. 

Housing will also be in focus when the Housing Action Program Task Force meets on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 5 p.m. at the Salt Spring Baptist Church. 

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