Fear mongering Not Helpful In Housing Discussions
By LAURA PATRICK
Salt Spring Local Trust Committee member
Wow! Have you noticed all of the fear mongering about housing on Salt Spring that has been flying around lately? I feel I must weigh in and help readers navigate their way through all of this jibber jabber.
Right off the top, I want to explore what is meant by “rural character.” On Salt Spring, our official community plan and land use bylaws are intended to reflect the characteristics that the community values. When I consider rural character, I think of Salt Spring’s farm lands, forest lands and clustered developments around its villages, but I also think of people and community. I know we can and must embrace our rural character to strengthen, not diminish, the Salt Spring Island community. Without strengthening our community and social connections, we cannot even begin to address challenges such as the increasing effects of climate change.
We have many challenges that require sophisticated and imaginative approaches developed by people working together. Our island culture, our rural character, is rooted in volunteerism and service to others. I’m grateful for all of the islanders who bring their deep sense of community to each and every challenge. When we experience severe weather, illnesses or accidents, it is our emergency responders, health workers, local business owners, service providers, farmers, contractors, forestry workers, neighbours, friends and family who step up to help.
It is a fact that we have a housing equity and workforce shortage crisis on Salt Spring. Every time we contemplate actions to address this crisis, the voices of fear soon emerge. Simply put, the majority of the housing on Salt Spring only serves one class of people. The over-heated real estate market combined with the pandemic-related work-from-home movement has created incredible demand. People are flocking to smaller communities across B.C., gobbling up real estate. House renovation and construction here is occurring at a frenzied pace. Just the other day, I had to wait for three ferry sailings due to 10 concrete trucks coming to the island to pour the foundation of a single house. The fear-mongering voices are silent on this type of development, which clears forest, builds big and houses few.
Our hospital and its lab, nursing homes, grocery stores, restaurants and businesses of all shapes and sizes are desperately short of staff and are operating at reduced capacities. The fear-mongering voices want you to think that the workforce shortage is due to growth, when actually it is due in large part to housing unavailability. That’s right, while we can rejoice in the few new affordable housing units that have been painstakingly brought into play, we have not estimated how many housing units have been stripped from the rental market due to conversion to owner-occupied or short-term vacation rental use.
The local Trust committee (LTC) modified its standing resolution on illegal dwellings back in June 2021. We made these changes in advance of the anticipated busy tourist season in response to calls from local business owners who had to resort to housing their staff in recreational vehicles. Since then, the availability of rental housing has only deteriorated further, putting even more strain on island businesses. The Housing Action Program Task Force (made up of citizen volunteers) requested that this standing resolution regarding unlawful dwellings remain until sustainable housing solutions are implemented. They also requested some clarifying language on the actions that will trigger enforcement. As the Islands Trust staff were concerned that sustainable housing solutions were difficult to define, I had suggested this definition: until there are safe, secure, appropriate housing options that are affordable for all demographics and household types in perpetuity. To the fear-mongering voice, this definition equates to unlimited growth, but to me it means let’s strive to have a spectrum of housing that serves a healthy and diverse community.
Let me quickly address the other thing that the fear-mongering voice is droning on about. The LTC requested staff to report back on potential bylaw amendments to permit accessory dwelling units in all zones. In no way did the trustees imply or direct staff to create bylaw amendments that fly in the face of the Islands Trust’s mandate, AND any future bylaw amendments are subject to a public process.
The housing equity and workforce crisis impacts all of us on Salt Spring. We require systemic change to create a healthy spectrum of housing on Salt Spring. Heading into this winter holiday season, I ask those of you who have empty homes, suites or cottages to consider making them available to long-term renters. AND enjoy the holiday season!