Viewpoint: Drop GHGs with housing

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By Rhonan Heitzmann

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions via our personal and public choices is essential climate action. There are many great ideas about what we can do locally being discussed but one aspect of public decision making that needs rapid and urgent change is being overlooked: Housing for working class families. 

Our ferries are not only clogged by ever increasing tourism, there is a growing trend of workers commuting here from Vancouver Island. This is a trend that is not likely to slow down since glaciers are melting faster than policy changes. We need more, smaller homes that are relatively affordable by design, as highlighted by Islands Trust reports going back at least as far as 2003 to address the already defined housing crisis. The low hanging fruit is to use buildings that already exist since the cost of building is now so high … yet under the proposed bylaw to allow full-time use of some “seasonal” cottages, a property is not eligible if it is more than a kilometre from a bus stop. The result is that there are people are commuting from Nanaimo, when they could be housed here, on island in existing buildings.

Where are the climate activists on this issue? Water conservation groups oppose the year-round use of cottages for fear of lack of water, yet under the currently permitted “seasonal” use, nothing stops vacationers from using water all summer long at a rate that far exceeds conservative use by year-round occupants aware of the scarcity at hand. We need to house people locally, in smaller dwellings that have less impact on the environment. We have the water, it just needs to be managed appropriately. The current official trend is leading to a future of thousands more mansions on large estates, and the odd, rare subsidized housing complex that manages to crawl through the hurdles of regulation once every 10 years or so. This is not ecological planning for a climate stressed world.

Right now a majority of renters are housed by non-conforming situations such as illegal suites and non-permitted cabins. Smart governance recognizes trends established by people to solve problems and would encourage those trends to conform to safety rules and give permissions so they can be used in appropriate ways and places by those who wish to abide by the official rules.

Salt Spring Solutions has written a letter to the Local Trust Committee outlining many things it can do right now to change policy to allow these natural trends to occur legally. Solutions such as: allocating permission for year-round use of cottages on a first come, first serve basis to those who meet eligibility requirements such as intent to rent full-time and proof of sustainable water supply; updating permissions for suites to be in accessory buildings such as shops, garages, studios and above commercial spaces, especially in the downtown core; and ecovillage/home plate zoning that allows property owners to exchange conservation of large portions of land for multiple dwellings within a limited footprint according to set ecological criteria.

Write to your LTC now and urge them to join the 21st century. Come out to the LTC meeting at the Harbour House Hotel on Oct. 1 and support our delegation request. Go to www.saltspringsolutions.com and sign our petition, get involved and share your story.

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