Fear mongering Not Helpful In Housing Discussions

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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!

7 Comments
  1. Diego Vega says

    Laura: I am one of your Constituents that you are tasked with representing. I am also one of the 60% of those polled by the Driftwood who disagree with your public position that the Islands Trust will not enforce your own bylaws.

    The 68-page ‘Special Report (No. 36) Bylaw Enforcement Best Practices Guide for Local Governments’, published by the Office of the Ombudsperson, Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, sets out guidelines for Bylaw Enforcement that are contrary to your unique perspective. The document is available online.

    Let’s review just how you see those of us who do not embrace your vision of “safe, secure, appropriate housing options that are affordable for all demographics and household types in perpetuity.”

    As someone who disagrees with your public statements and those of your Office, I am informed by you that any argument I might put forth is dismissed, first in one instance as ‘jibber jabber’ and in five instances in as many paragraphs as ‘fear mongering’.

    While I would certainly defer to any current public official when it comes to expertise on fear mongering, I would point to the obvious irony of your argument being based on this same strategy.

    This level of hostility and bias is concerning in any public servant, and in this context is simply insulting to those of us in a democracy who have adopted a position that differs from yours.

    This is not the behaviour I expect of any level of government. I will leave it to other readers to draw their own conclusions.

    But back to your vision.

    Let us consider today’s headline from the CBC: Average Canadian house price hit all-time high of $720,850 in November.

    I am curious to understand how you might propose to provide affordable housing, for all demographics, forever, in a country where the average price for a house is 13X our average national income of $54,630?

    Island Savings shows on its Affordability calculator that if someone earned this average income and managed to somehow save up $50,000 for a down-payment, they would qualify for a mortgage of $208,000 on a $253,000 house.

    Please share your math with your Constituents so that we can better understand your vision.

    To summarize, you have been tasked with the responsibility for a bylaw that is generally consistent with those in other similar communities. You no longer feel it is convenient for you to enforce it and have publicly stated that you will not do so until some improbable outcome takes place and lasts forever.

    To attack those of us who do not share your solution, you attempt to globally diminish any argument by resorting to publicly insulting your Constituents. I understand that this is acceptable political behaviour in certain jurisdictions, but I would argue that Salt Spring Island is not one of them.

  2. shelley mahoney says

    Lots of words very little information. Usually those who oppose Trust initiatives are called out for sharing misinformation, today we are spreading fear. Would it not be better to share information rather than attack the messenger?

    Real solutions to preserve rural character exist, limit house sizes, ban non resident ownership, empty home taxes, spec. taxes.

    Unlawful dwelling bylaw relaxing is a green light for slumlords and flies in the face of our carefully crafted OCP. Pretending that the well to do will suddenly create spaces for folks to live is indeed wishful thinking.

  3. Ryan says

    Love what you have done with the reduction in bylaw enforcement to encourage property owners to rent out affordable housing options.

    In every situation there will be a few loud voices crying afoul, no matter what you do. It’s very short-sighted to think local governments can solve the province (and country) wide real estate price inflation that is happening.

    I’m confident in the concept of land owners being able to offer various types of relatively low-price rental units that provide rental options that are significantly cheaper than any mortgage you would find in southern B.C.

    Once people can afford a basic mortgage ($550k) then they can get out of renting. This is true everywhere in southern B.C. It’s not a SSI-specific issue.

    Changing the bylaw enforcement makes this easier though. If someone can get a basic mortgage, they can now set up an alternate income with their property to afford their mortgage, and provide entry-level living space to someone else. Beautiful!

    Thanks for trying something to help with affordable housing, and to help those that have alternate dwellings on their property feel like they can support the community without fear.

  4. Justin Credible says

    The fact is, part of the rural character the islands are famous for is the amount of alternative lifestyles and dwellings, legal or not, that dot the islands and always have. You are correct that the current (legal) housing only serves one class, and I find those who are against anything but the “approved conforming housing” are attempting to rid the islands of all those who choose to live differently. This is not Vancouver, and should not be governed as such. Yes, there are slumlords and unsafe dwellings, but they are the exception to the rule.

    Most of the folks who choose to live a simple, traditional island life off the grid, or in their tiny homes, or in their treehouses, are harming no one and simply want to be left alone. Same goes for the employees of multiple businesses who are housed in RVs or accessory buildings. I have news for everyone: this exists everywhere. I even met an airplane mechanic who, because of housing issues, created a nice dwelling INSIDE one of the plane hangars where he works on the mainland. Warehouses often have hidden sleeping areas. Backyard bunkies that require no permits are extremely popular across Canada, not just to look at, but to sleep in. I see them being built all over Salt Spring.

    The classism that has infiltrated the islands is apparent when we see vocal complainers, always screaming about the “what-ifs” and terrified that the person who lives next door to them might (gasp!) prefer a composting toilet and solar panels instead of a McMansion with a swimming pool.

    The islands used to be very accepting and tolerant of a huge variety of people and lifestyles. I am glad to see this bylaw wording changed, as it will allow REAL problems such as sewer, safety etc to be dealt with but in a way that will leave honest homesteaders or working class folks alone, finally. Enough of the whataboutisms and fear mongering. The islands survived and thrived back when “unlawful dwellings” were the norm. The sky is not falling. Thanks for your important work, Laura.

  5. Maxine Leichter says

    It isn’t clear who this post is accusing of fear mongering. Articles and letters that point out likely negative aspects of adding more and more households to SSI with weak mechanisms to assure these go to island workers, is not fear mongering. Pointing out problems with lack of enforcement is not fear mongering.
    These submissions are legitimate public discourse on how to solve the affordable housing problem. Name calling is worrisome because it can discourage criticism of elected officials. The freedom to give such criticism is the bedrock of democracy

    The difficult issues that face us are best addressed by discussion of the issues, rather than name calling. Rezoning to add more and more residences is neither a sophisticated or imaginative solution. It is a mechanism best used in municipalities with community water, sewer and robust public transit. As to what is rural? Generally, it is the opposite of dense development. Rural is farmland, natural areas and large lots. Volunteerism is not an indication of rural character because volunteerism exists in cities as well.

    If the trustees did not intend to increase density, why did they ask for a report about rezoning in ALL zones to allow full-time occupancy of suites and cottages. They could have phrased the request differently, highlighting what they intended.

    The best solutions will be found after thorough consideration of all perspectives. That is why various opinions should be encouraged.

  6. Claire says

    I am curious to hear how Laura plans to tax any of these unlawful dwellings.

    My understanding is that the property taxes are based on the combined assessed value of the lands and buildings.

    This calculation is based on the value of buildings as determined, in part, by the CR D during the permitting process.

    If the buildings are not permitted, and no one knows they exist, then how does islands trust tax our properties in a fair and equitable manner for everyone?

    Should my family and I pay the same property tax as my neighbour?

    I am paying my fair share of taxes for the schools and the police and fire department, the hospital an all the other services that our community agrees to fund together.

    If I choose to have unlawful dwellings on my property, filled with families that are also using these services, should I pay more property taxes to cover this additional cost to our community?

    Of course I should! I want to do the right thing.

    How would I go about doing that so that I am not taking unfair advantage of my neighbours?

    I know you want to be kind, but I don’t think you have fully thought this through.

  7. Diego Vega says

    The issue of property tax is perhaps the most important, and most completely ignored component of Laura Patrick’s curious proposal.

    From what I understand of the public statements of a Salt Spring Local Trust Committee member, the residents of our community are being encouraged to provide unlawful dwellings on their properties, with the further assurance that no enforcement actions will be taken against them.

    This from the BC Assessment government website:

    • BC Assessment provides a stable base for property taxation in British Columbia.

    • Our property assessments provide the foundation to raise billions of dollars in property tax revenues each year. In turn, this helps fund the many community services provided by local governments as well as public education and health care.

    • In determining the assessed value and the property type, our appraisers may give consideration to: present use, location, original cost, replacement cost, revenue or rental value…

    If we follow Laura Patrick’s directions, how are we not actively undermining our tax base?

    And is it lawful to misrepresent, or even encourage someone to misrepresent the true status of your property value to the BC Government?

    Why would Islands Trust not want our Public Schools and Health Care Services to be supported by a fair and equitable distribution of taxes among our community, based on honesty and integrity?

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