Lack of housing a critical island issue

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By TOBY FOUKS

I hope that people take Debbie Magnusson’s July 7 letter to heart and help  raise money to support the Lady Minto Hospital Emergency Department initiative. Her recent visit for stitches in her finger increased her awareness of the need for expanded facilities. 

Her description of a three-hour visit includes observations about the efficiency in the way in which medical personnel use the crowded facility, and the kinds of activities that take place. This included arrivals coming by helicopter to deal with serious situations. In fact, a second on-call doctor had to be brought in. As Magnusson says, privacy — which might be important to some — is not available. What compounds the problem is that people who are unable to get a family physician locally are forced to use the emergency department’s on-call doctors in lieu of a family physician. 

Lady Minto’s emergency services are something that any of us might need, that many of us have needed, and when we require emergency care we need it here, right now, on Salt Spring Island. It’s a critical community facility.

However, no matter how wonderful the improved emergency area might be (and I do not doubt that it will be wonderful), unless the medical personnel the hospital requires are able to find affordable accommodation on the island, those long waits are going to continue, albeit in greatly improved surroundings.  

How can we manage to acquire and keep medically trained individuals if they cannot find affordable housing on Salt Spring? Salt Spring Island is likely a very appealing choice for many such people, but affordable housing must first be found. What difference will the expanded, improved area make if the hospital cannot acquire such medically trained professionals?

There is always going to be attrition as people retire or move off-island. How will the hospital be able to replace the professionals we already have let alone increase staff numbers?

This is a significant aspect of the housing crisis on the island, a crisis which affects the entire community, not just people wanting to remain here or relocate here. We are all affected by this situation if the people we need to be here to help us in our lives either cannot live on the island or must leave to live elsewhere in order to find affordable housing. 

One has only to follow posts for accommodation requirements to know that many people who have lived here in rental accommodation have had to go elsewhere because there is nothing affordable (or even not affordable) available for them to rent. Owners have sold properties, making it necessary for renters, often very long term, to vacate and search for alternative accommodation. Most of these people were highly desirable tenants. As well, short-term stays facilitated through the internet have meant accommodation formerly rented long term is out of that market. 

There are great renters, fair renters and terrible renters. I can understand why someone would prefer to rent short term for the same amount of money (or almost as much) without the potential difficulty that comes with a difficult tenant, not just while the tenant occupies the space but afterwards when one must cover the cost of cleaning up what is left behind. However, there are many wonderful potential tenants searching for places to live in order to remain on or relocate to Salt Spring. Many of these people are already very integrated into the community.

Businesses can’t be viable without staff. It’s very hard for business owners to have to close up because potential employees can’t find living accommodation here. That leads to personal suffering and huge financial losses. The community misses those businesses. However, when our hospital can’t get the professionals it needs for the same reason, then it becomes a community crisis. 

The expansion of the emergency area at Lady Minto needs our financial support, but it’s just one part of a larger, very disturbing picture. To my inexperienced eye it seems to me that the rental prices being asked are often extremely high, more than many of the people we need to have living here can afford. Property values have escalated, it has been a sellers’ market, and rental costs have increased hugely — but wages and salaries have not kept pace.

I suspect that if people with space to rent could be assured of an excellent tenant then more space would become available. I have no suggestions that will help to counteract the sometimes stratospheric prices being charged for accommodation. I do believe that the people we really need for the community’s well-being bring expertise with them rather than wealth. 

The writer is a longtime Salt Spring Island resident.

1 Comment
  1. David Murphy says

    For better or for worse, we live in a regulated market economy, so housing cost is closely associated with supply and demand. SSI has too little housing, especially housing that is affordable to workers and small business owners, who wish to live and work here. The under supply and associated high cost is due to government policy. Unfortunately, governments in the West during this era have aligned their policies with the interests of the housing supply industry, rather than the electorate and general public; policies that inflate the price of housing, by limiting supply and piling on costs through taxes, fees, regulations etc. that are usually tied to the cost of housing, thereby serving the interests of ever expanding bureaucracies and the their political masters. So, if we want to return housing to its earlier purpose, meeting basic human needs, we need to change government policy. We could start by establishing autonomous, local and democratic self-government, which has primary control over housing policy and supply.

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