Islanders speak up on housing bylaws
Supporters and opponents of housing-related bylaws were out in full force on Thursday, Aug. 18 at two Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) public hearings held at the Harbour House Hotel.
Proposed Bylaw 530 changes definitions to allow secondary suites and cottages — redefined as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) — in most zones on the island. It does not authorize residences in garages or recreational vehicles on a property, as some people have stated.
Proposed Bylaw 526 would allow properties zoned Agriculture 1 and 2 to have a secondary suite within a single-family dwelling as well as an accessory dwelling.
Among those speaking against Bylaw 530 was Ron Wright, who said it was actually “unlawful.” He cited an eight-page legal opinion from Tollefson Law of Victoria provided to a Keep Salt Spring Sustainable group Wright and others have formed to back up that claim.
Wright also observed that the word “affordability” doesn’t appear in the bylaw.
“This bylaw’s main thrust is to deregulate and let market forces rip,” Wright said. “The likeliest outcome will be skyrocketing land values for thousands of landowners and a massive increase in tourism and uncontrollable STVRs. Our island’s charm and natural beauty will be ruthlessly exploited until the very things that make this island so special are wrecked beyond repair.”
Michael Wall said his research found that legalizing ADUs raised property values, which made it more difficult for low-income people to buy homes.
“Giving a property owner permission to build an extra building on that land is going to raise the property value of that land. And that’s probably going to make it so that higher income people are going to buy those properties when they sell them. They’re probably not going to use those added buildings to rent out. They’re probably going to use it for family guests and Airbnb.”
Sharon Bywater said she felt a guarantee that created units would be rented to local workers would be required to make the bylaw effective.
“We want affordable housing. I think that’s something everybody in this room can agree on, but how do we get there? In this bylaw, I feel very strongly that there be a requirement that any ADU is rented affordably to a local worker. Without that requirement, I honestly do not see it happening.”
Elizabeth White said she did not support Bylaw 530 in its current form, without the speculation and vacancy tax applied to the island and adequate resources dedicated to bylaw enforcement to discourage STVR use.
“It will encourage everything that affordable housing advocates and climate and ecological activists alike have been working hard to avoid, namely more property speculation, more short-term vacation rentals and increased land clearing and estate development for absentee or part-time landowners,” said White. “Economic realities dictate these outcomes.”
Several people also spoke in favour of Bylaw 530.
Mairi Welman told trustees that only 54 per cent of Salt Spring’s population is of working age — 18 to 64 — which she said “is well below that required for a healthy functional community that is resilient in the face of the many challenges facing us and those to come.” Further, the number of people in that category of Salt Spring’s population had only grown by 160 between the 2016 and 2021 censuses while the 65-plus category had increased by more than 800 individuals.
“Current policies that favour new single family home development over long-term rental housing is driving a skewed population growth that is heavily service dependent and has a large environmental footprint,” she added. “We’re out of balance, and the wobble is only going to increase exponentially if we don’t make some changes. Please vote yes to Bylaw 530 and allow the incoming newly elected Trust committee to begin to restore the balance in our community. We need all ages and all incomes living here to truly call Salt Spring sustainable.”
Jessica Harkema also added her voice to those who support Bylaw 530.
“This is the first meaningful [housing] bylaw I’ve ever seen proposed, and I mean meaningful in that it could move us forward,” she said.
One way that could happen is if different members of a family could share two dwellings on a property, she explained. That would help her as a younger working person to remain on the island.
“My biggest worry is that this actually isn’t enough. We have to continue pushing Salt Spring to be a more livable community.”
Rhonan Heitzmann, who chairs the Salt Spring LTC’s Housing Action Program Task Force, stressed that affordable housing is defined as consuming up to 30 per cent of household income, which for many working families can be quite high.
“There’s a lot of people who can afford to pay market rents,” he said. “This bylaw isn’t supposed to imitate subsidized housing.”
Heitzmann also pointed out that the official community plan did not only contain statements about protecting the environment.
“We can’t just cherry pick a few sentences and focus only on that to support your points. You need to consider everything it says. The OCP is full of quotes to support a diverse and healthy community. It supports new dwellings for affordable housing.”
The Bylaw 530 hearing began in an unusual way, with Bill Henderson playing ukulele and singing a song that had lines like “Don’t try to change these islands; let these islands change you.”
“That has got to be a first for me,” said LTC chair Peter Luckham. “We could start a new thing here on Salt Spring.”
The hearing also heard from seven-year-old Meadow, who said she and her mom needed a home. Her mother then explained they have to be out of their current residence in a couple of weeks and have been unable to find new accommodation. She has skills in caregiving, business, construction and restaurant work, she added, “and if we find that we’re going to have to leave the island, it would be a loss because I will finally be able to go to work, and we were hoping to make this our longtime home.”
The LTC had also received 208 written submissions about Bylaw 530 before the cut-off on Aug. 17.
Several speakers had suggestions for improving the bylaw, including facilitating tiny home use, covenanting affordability in some way, and allowing a tourist accommodation unit as well as one for long-term rental on the same property to make the proposition more financially viable.
Earlier in the day the hearing on Bylaw 526 saw more than 20 provide their opinion, with only a couple of people not in support, citing concerns about environmental degradation.
Adam Gold of Golden Tree Farm was one of the people who talked about the various challenges of farming, including the need for housing.
“I think if we can offer good housing to our people, then we can maintain our staff. We can then maintain food, we can maintain a solid business and then offer food security to the community. If we don’t have that we can’t do it, and so it’s really important. Also, I have children that I’m bringing up on my farm, and I would love to be able to have housing for them in the future. I really don’t see how we can move forward without this. And I really thank you for for thinking about it right now.”
Both bylaws will be considered by LTC members at their Sept. 6 meeting.