Housing solution no easy fix, says trustee Grove

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The dire need for housing of all sorts formed a major theme of discussion at Friday’s ASK Salt Spring event, where Islands Trust trustee Peter Grove was guest speaker.

Subbing in for regular Trust representative Laura Patrick, Grove said in his opening address that he realized housing was a top concern for islanders and that it’s a concern for the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee as well. However, he warned that any solutions will not be quick ones. 

“It’s not going to be an easy fix, and anybody that’s telling you it’s an easy fix is misleading you,” Grove said. “I’m not sure what it’s going to take but this problem is not going to go away, in my view.”

Grove’s opinion is that Salt Spring is one of the most desirable places to live in all of Canada for someone looking for a rural setting. 

“And I worry that the more homes get built, the more people who will come, so I don’t know what the answer is,” he said. 

Grove also observed that communities up and down Vancouver Island, as well as Vancouver and Victoria, have similar problems to Salt Spring with very little housing stock, what there is being over-priced, and homeless populations growing. The Islands Trust is limited in how it can help through land-use decisions, he said, so it’s up to other local governments like the Capital Regional District to work with BC Housing to create new housing units.

Grove agreed there is more the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee could do. The LTC has assembled a housing task force from local citizens to work on the issue, but Grove said the members are finding it won’t be as easy as they thought to make big changes. 

“I worry about false expectations … there have been false expectations out there about what can be done and I worry about that,” he said. “There are definitely things that can be done to alleviate and improve the situation, but it’s not going to be a fix-all.”

The immediate effects of the housing crisis were brought into sharp focus by one of the meeting participants who identified himself just as Ryan, and asked why local governments were not taking creative steps to deal with the immediate problem.

“My concern is you’re worried about building houses and everything — I’m homeless here. I work hard and I don’t have a place to live. Why don’t you think about alternatives, because there are a lot of people here,” he said.

The man suggested establishing a legal encampment with portable toilets and a screening process for working residents, which would serve a different population than the groups that hang around and party in Centennial Park, he suggested. 

“That’s an easy alternative to help a lot of the problem, because there are a lot of people that work hard, and they’re bushwhacking,” he said.

ASK Salt Spring moderator Gayle Baker noted the Capital Regional District had been hoping to include something like that on property it owns and has slated for affordable housing on Drake Road. She said BC Housing, which would potentially fund that housing project, would not allow an encampment on the same property. 

Grove suggested an encampment could be possible on another property, depending on where it was located and the zoning.

Other participants speaking on Friday suggested the housing task force members are getting frustrated by the process and because they aren’t permitted to meet outside of the official structure. Grove explained that due process must be followed, including advertising public meetings and having minutes kept.

“Transparency is what we’re all about. It’s ponderous and it’s frustrating, but it’s what we have to work with and we have to do the best we can with it, but I am very hopeful for that committee,” Grove said. 

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