Editorial: Cottage Industry

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Almost everyone on Salt Spring would agree the dire housing situation needs to be addressed.

The Local Trust Committee’s current project to legalize the long-term rental of cottages that were previously just for seasonal use is one response available to the land-use authority, and could help increase rental stock in a reasonably quick timeframe.

Some critics of the draft bylaw have said that it doesn’t go far enough. In an effort to limit the number of cottages that may be approved to effect only an “incremental” density increase, a set of criteria excludes properties for various reasons. Those limits and conditions are clearly set out in the island’s official community plan. Amending that plan would be a more complex and time-consuming process than desperate islanders are looking for.

Other people have noted many potential drawbacks to the bylaw, especially in relation to Salt Spring’s other top issue, its water supply. The mapping criteria that excludes properties located in water districts and community well capture zones should resolve much of that problem. Homeowners who rely on groundwater will have to consider if their own supply is up to an increase.

Affordability is another concern that has been raised. The LTC has so far not suggested drafting housing agreements, recognizing that property owners who choose to build a cottage for rental purposes will need to get some return on their investment. It’s also thought that increasing the housing stock will naturally cause rents to level out. This is indeed a risky bet. The LTC can decide if the added hurdle would discourage people from offering their properties up to the rental market.

As to limiting the dwellings to specific need groups, it’s difficult to imagine who would be moving to small rental accommodations located outside the village hub, other than the people who need them. Those with more resources will no doubt find the way to purchase or rent grander abodes.

It’s true that a similar bylaw passed in 2013 and permitted secondary suites in a pilot area has had disappointing uptake. But if even a small fraction of the 400 or so properties allowed to rent cottages long-term takes up the idea, it will be a net benefit.

This island has begged for housing solutions. Adjustments to the bylaw may be needed, but let’s embrace the opportunity that cottages offer. 

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