Hard work on housing begins now

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By Rhonan Heitzmann and Calico Chang

Over the course of the past six months, volunteers from across the island have been exploring solutions to our affordable housing crisis.

Members of our group have held hundreds of meetings and conversations with community leaders, current elected officials, planners, non-profit housing proponents, engineers and water experts, builders and rental suite owners, and those most impacted by the current crisis including seniors, teachers and healthcare workers, young families, farmers and business owners.

Through these discussions we have identified four high priority housing solutions that, if implemented, we believe would go a long way towards easing the crisis. There are of course many other ideas that will help, however, we believe these four will have the most significant impact and are the most viable given current governance limitations.

At the root of any long-term solution is the need to increase the supply of long-term rental housing and affordable homeownership for Salt Spring residents, while maintaining our world-class protections for our remarkable ecosystems.

Earlier this month we sent a questionnaire to all six LTC and two CRD director candidates, asking if they shared our priorities, and specifically what they would do, if elected, to implement these solutions. Our goals were twofold — first, to identify which of the candidates really “get it” and are thinking hard and deep about practical solutions, and the second was to generate more awareness about the specific solutions we’ve surfaced.

Here are our four proposed solutions:

• Our first priority is to increase housing density in specific zones and locations in ways that are compatible with the existing character and ecological sensibilities of our community.

• Our second priority is to make it easier and cheaper to use rainwater and groundwater as the principal source of potable water for multi-family housing and rainwater for secondary dwellings.

• Our third priority is to remove cost and procedural barriers to non-profit affordable housing projects. Several non-profit projects are proposed or being actively planned in our community, but all of these face significant barriers to actually being constructed.

• Our fourth priority is to restrict the number of short-term vacation rentals and create safeguards to protect long-term affordable housing for residents.

Finally, we asked candidates to suggest their own ideas for affordable housing solutions that they want to popularize or implement if elected.

We are happy to report that all candidates responded, and that housing is shared as a high priority issue of each one. There were some significant differences, however, in how certain candidates propose we get there.

Full candidate responses to our five questions can be found on our website at www.SaltSpringSolutions.com/updates.

We hope that everyone who is impacted by the crisis — and that means everyone but most especially those directly affected — gets out and votes this Saturday, Oct. 20. Whoever gets elected we are confident there is newfound momentum and energy towards finding solutions and we look forward to working with the new trustees and CRD director on change that protects our environment while making Salt Spring a place that works for everyone.

The writers are members of Salt Spring Solutions, a group formed earlier this year to advocate for affordable housing on Salt Spring Island.

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