Editorial: Even small steps on housing must be taken

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Way back in 2005, alarms were heard about Salt Spring becoming just like Martha’s Vineyard.

Some parts of the comparison to the Massachusetts tourist haven might be considered desirable, but then, as now, the concerns were about gentrification of the community and a lack of affordable housing for resident workers to keep the public services and businesses running, and how to maintain a diverse and authentic community.

The economic crash of 2008 tempered the rush and real estate prices for a number of years, but here we are again in a panic and without the means to quickly create the housing needed today.

We know that the same thing is happening in many parts of B.C., and last year the province saw net migration of 100,797 people, the highest number since 1961. But that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the impact on our own community.

Last week the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee gave first reading to Bylaw 530, which would allow creation of rental housing using accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in all zones on the island. Trust staff caution that several issues need to be explored further both technically and legally before the draft bylaw gets too far. Even if those things are resolved, the bylaw does not eliminate other persistent hurdles such as water and sewer services and building permits. Turning one’s lot into a mini trailer park of recreational vehicles is not envisioned — at all. One ADU per lot (and RVs don’t qualify to be an ADU) would be allowed.

It takes a motivated property owner to even consider adding a rental unit to their home or property and to become a landlord as a result. And a balance needs to be struck between not making it so expensive and inconvenient for property owners to take this action and for units to be truly affordable and/or suitable. A land-use bylaw may not be equipped to help achieve such a balance.

Still, despite the obvious challenges that this bylaw faces in even being finalized and passed in a useful form, it is something that must be done to at least put a tiny Band-aid on the blood loss of the working members of this community.

As trustee Laura Patrick said last week, “We’re going to have to solve this problem. No action is not acceptable.” We agree.

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