Trust loosens Restrictions to address housing crisis

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People living in rental units deemed “unlawful” by the Islands Trust will no longer be subject to bylaw enforcement on Salt Spring Island.

The island’s three-member local Trust committee (LTC) followed the lead of a housing task force set up to deal with an ongoing and deepening housing crisis, choosing to adopt all recommendations made by Trust staff at a Nov. 9 meeting. 

The Islands Trust will not be enforcing their housing bylaws for any “commercial accommodation, such as cabins, hotels, guest houses and motels” providing long-term residency. Bylaw enforcement will also be deferred for “all unlawful dwellings” used for residential purposes, except in the case of specific concerns. If bylaw officers were to attend it would be for health and safety, issues with sewage, contamination of wells or drinking water, being in environmentally sensitive areas or in the case of non-permitted campgrounds. 

Wishing to communicate the urgency of the situation, trustee Laura Patrick added wording to the motion on deferring bylaw enforcement for “unlawful dwellings,” which read that the deferral will be until “there are safe, secure, appropriate housing options that are affordable for all demographics and household types in perpetuity.” The Housing Action Program Task Force had asked for additional wording to be added addressing the need for bylaw enforcement to be deferred until “sustainable housing solutions” are implemented. 

It was standing room only at the Hart Bradley Hall Tuesday afternoon, and these interim changes meant to help alleviate Salt Spring’s housing crunch were welcomed with a round of applause. Members of the Salt Spring Solutions group, members of the task force and residents spoke in support of the changes at a town hall section of the meeting. 

“If you really look behind the scenes and look into who is the biggest provider of affordable housing on Salt Spring, the very unofficial answer will be . . . unlawful dwellings and that’s maybe not something people like to hear or that is showing up in any reports,” said Freyja Skye. “A lot of these unlawful housing units are perfectly safe and low impact, ecologically sound.” 

The committee also passed staff recommendations that serve to expedite the building of affordable housing on Salt Spring, including asking for amendments to Trust-wide policies that support “expedited rezoning applications for affordable housing.” 

Trustees are now also expecting to get reports back from Islands Trust staff about how they might amend bylaws to allow “accessory dwelling units” in all zones. This would include cottages, secondary suites in homes and buildings such as garages and the like, confirmed regional planning manager Stefan Cermak. 

For a fulsome report from the Nov. 9 meeting, see the Nov. 17 edition of the Driftwood. 

6 Comments
  1. Diego Vega says

    This is fantastic news.

    I have 5 acres that can easily support 15-20 shipping containers for low-cost housing. We can insulate the walls, run a power cord in for lights and a heater and a hotplate, put in some drywall and furnish each with a couple of bunk beds.

    We can then dig out just as many outhouses or set up composting toilets so that no one has a sanitation issue to complain about and there won’t be any reason for Bylaw Officers to come bother us.

    This alone will provide housing for maybe 40 or more people.

    For furnished accommodation like this, I am certain we can easily bring in $1000 for each unit every month!

    Once my neighbours see how we can recover all of our investment in the first year, they will be sure to want to get on board and set up their own housing projects.

    And since Salt Spring Island is such a fantastic place to live, I would bet that we can get an endless number of people to come to live and work here, at least until we have such an awesome population density that it will be just like everywhere else.

    And when no one wanted to live here anymore, the housing crisis would be solved, and our ‘unlawful dwellings’ would all be grandfathered as non-conforming compliant.

    What a terrific plan. How soon can we start?

  2. Jacinthe Eastick says

    I always thought that trustees had to be at arms-length from enforcement. Trustees adopt bylaws, bylaw enforcement officers make sure that the rules in those bylaws are followed. Period.
    It is up to the community and its LTC to change the bylaws if they are no longer appropriate. For an LTC to meddle with the role of enforcement is autocratic and a slippery slope to anarchy IMHO. What is the point of spending taxpayers money on consultation, OCPs and bylaws if by a simple resolution an LTC can decide that they do not need to be respected? What sort of harmony can be found in that chaos?

    1. Diego Vega says

      That is an excellent point Jacinthe!

      Will this present course of action by Islands Trust withstand a court challenge from an interested or injured party?

      When Islands Trust set out the current bylaws concerning housing, they did so in a fully accountable manner that is widely replicated in other jurisdictions. These bylaws further address the need to act in harmony with the CRD, hospital and emergency services, and water supply concerns.

      No court would hear a challenge to those bylaws.

      A reasonable man would base certain financial decisions on those bylaws, including purchasing land and moving to SSI, investing in a home for a family, with further expectations as to density with respect to schools and other services.

      By proactively abandoning these same bylaws through a stated policy of non-enforcement, Islands Trust is disregarding the very justification for these bylaws that brought them into being and ignoring their fiduciary duties to their constituents in order to appease the loudest voices in the room.

      Islands Trust has by their stated policy advised the public that “anything goes.”

      Can we now also expect the RCMP to inform the public that while the local speed limit is 80 km/h, that since a lot of drivers have advised them that they would prefer to get to their destinations sooner there will be no longer be any enforcement measures?

      We recently saw a tragic fire in a 400-square-foot cabin on Beaver Point Road that reportedly lacked the prescribed access for fire protection services.

      Was this cabin an example of the type of “all unlawful dwellings used for residential purposes”, and if so, does it follow that Islands Trust might have contingent liability in this matter?

      What if a neighbour, relying on existing bylaws, had complained to Islands Trust about the cabin and was advised that there would be no enforcement? And what if that fire had happened in the middle of summer and a dozen surrounding homes had burned to the ground?

      Would the policy that is in place to shield trustees from personal liability in the course of their duties still protect them, when their public position is to advise residents that our bylaws will not be enforced, and by extension, can be ignored?

      Salt Spring Island will always have more people who want to live here than there are available places to live.

      You will not build your way out of a housing crisis. If you do not understand this, take a drive from Chilliwack to Vancouver pretty much any time of any day.

      Islands Trust has a choice they need to make.

      The Trustees can destroy Salt Spring Island in a few short years by turning it into an unliveable and overcrowded suburb of Victoria or Vancouver, but without the services, or they can stand their ground and do what they know to be the right thing.

      Doing the right thing doesn’t always make you popular, but it is always the right thing.

  3. Maxine Leicher says

    This new policy is not much different than the policy that has been in place for several years. There are many occupied unsafe structures. I know of a situation where a neighbour did complain about unsafe conditions, bylaw enforcement tried to get it corrected, but after two years, the dangerous situation remains. There are a lot of reasons why Islands Trust bylaw enforcement is not successful. Also, the CRD does not always act when informed about building code violations that are dangerous. It’s a real mess and people are going to get hurt or worse.

  4. Robert Partridge says

    For information on the fallacy of the shipping container hyperbole, watch this YouTube:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=i7yEDz6bCfU

    Cut out a hole for a door and now you need a structural engineer.

  5. Lary Waldman says

    Islands Trust bylaw enforcement has been a joke for 30 or more years. It is an extraordinary waste of money, much like the Trust!

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