Viewpoint: Don’t stand in the way of housing solutions

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By RON COOKE

I would like to respond to Frants Attorp’s Viewpoint in the March 27 paper, as it is symptomatic of a certain mindset that some islanders still carry, and which proves detrimental to the integrity of our community, and perhaps even to Mr. Attorp himself.

I am admittedly an affordable housing advocate — a volunteer with no skin in the game except to be concerned about what I see as a crisis that should concern us all here. I am also retired, own a home and live comfortably and could easily close my mind to the struggle of others. But I have also looked beneath the surface and realized that we all stand to lose a lot if we do not open our minds.

A well-rounded community is made up of not just those who can afford the high costs of buying property and building a home to retire to here. I seldom even meet these folks. They are often off to Mexico for the winter or they just come to town to get groceries and then it’s back to their estates. They are not the islanders I rub shoulders with.

The folks I know are the ones I meet every day in town: the folks behind counters, office workers, nurses and teachers, small business owners, artists and musicians, our sons and daughters who collectively give our community its unique flavour and keep our economy chugging along. And these folks are facing a BIG problem. Talk to them, and you will quickly learn that most of them live here tenuously, making just enough to get by and facing a real struggle to find any kind of suitable housing at all.

Or ask their employers about how hard it is to find and keep staff as more and more employees are forced to move away due to our lack of housing stock.

And this brings us to the “evil” developers. Yes, there are outside forces who would love to buy up property here to build condos and bedroom communities, and I fear them as much as Mr. Attorp. But our official community plan is also supposed to look after not just our unique environment but those who live within it. We are doing pretty well on the first count but poorly on the second one.

What I have learned through my working with the affordable housing groups here is that we are blessed to have a fair number of community-minded individuals and organizations that are not in it for any monetary gain at all but rather to see our island remain healthy and viable. The housing developments that they are spearheading are not for the wealthy, who need no such help. They are offered up to meet the needs of young families and our working-class and elderly pensioners who are slowly, almost invisibly being forced off the island, to the detriment of all.

It is also important to say that none of these folks are wanting to change the rural landscape of our island. They think very carefully about location, home size, impact on the environment and the community.

Unfortunately, these projects all continue to fall victim to the rules and attitudes in place, and struggle to make progress. Every month or year wasted on red tape sees the costs rise and the problems grow. Fortunately, all three of our newly elected officials see the problems clearly now, and do what they can to be on board, but they too are dealing with the very set of rules they are sworn to uphold, and with the unrealistic drawbridge mentality of the comfortable minority.

Added to this whole schmozzle is the water moratorium, which has perhaps done the most damage to all of these new projects. It is heartbreaking to watch. I do understand the position that NSSWW finds itself in, and even empathize. And yes, we do need to carefully look after our resources, but not to the detriment of those who live and work in our community.

It has been said that we don’t have a water problem, we have a water collection, storage and distribution problem. I see it as being somewhere in between. I would also say that my friend Rhonan Heitzmann, who Mr. Attorp is so quick to dismiss, is one of the leading lights on our island on this front, looking for ingenuity in alternative water collection and storage.

And very importantly, I would also add that the people who these projects are designed for are already living here, using water and flushing toilets. They will not be adding much new draw on our water supply, if at all. In fact, all these new affordable home projects are designed with water conservation and recycling in mind, and they all have stringent guidelines in place to ensure preference to those who already live here.

So I would ask my fellow islanders to suspend your complacency for a moment and poke around a bit. Educate yourselves on our housing crisis and think about what you can do to be part of the solution. At the very least, don’t stand in the way.

The writer is a board member of the Salt Spring Housing Council, Salt Spring Community Services, Wagon Wheel Housing Society and Dragonfly Commons Housing Society.

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