Viewpoint: Housing crisis stories shared

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BY SALT SPRING SOLUTIONS

Earlier this summer a surprising controversy arose over whether or not it was appropriate for our local government to find solutions to the island’s workforce housing crisis.

The heated battles we witnessed over the Housing Action Program Task Force — a citizen committee with no decision-making power but whose recommendations are about to be submitted to the LTC next month — and the proposed inclusion of “healthy communities” as one of the three priorities of the Trust in the Trust Policy Statement showed us that our community has a lot to learn about how the workforce housing crisis is ravaging our community.

In July our organization asked Salt Springers to share stories of their struggles with housing, and whether they were considering leaving the island as a result of the crisis. The #GoodbyeSaltspring campaign was born. By the end of the summer, we had received an incredible 58 written stories.

According to the stories, many fully employed people are losing sleep, working multiple jobs without days off, living in shabby spaces with mold and uninsulated walls, with no access to hot water, and putting up with much much more, just to keep a roof over their heads. At least three stories came from health-care workers — directly connected to the Gulf Islands’ only hospital — on how the crisis was hurting their ability to keep staff and services operating.

According to the BC Non-profit Housing Association, over half of Salt Spring’s population spends more than 50 per cent of their income on shelter costs. Some stories reported people spending over 70 per cent of their income.

Although the impacts of a lack of workforce housing are many, one symptom perhaps visible to everyone by now has been the increase in local businesses curtailing their hours of operation due to staff shortages. It’s not just from the pandemic.

Excerpts and photos from these stories have been posted in a quilt-like display on a window generously provided by the Salt Spring Coffee cafe in Ganges, for the public to engage with. Included in the display are quotes from interviews conducted for the articles published in the Finding Home column in the Driftwood. The display will be moving to different locations around the island including Mouat’s Trading Co. and Rock Salt Restaurant & Café this fall and winter to reach as many people as possible.

The display includes a QR code to sign a housing petition asking local governments to remove their operating silos and work harder to solve the workforce housing crisis.

At the Global Climate Strike event held earlier this month, our coordinator Aina Yasué implored the community to stop thinking housing solutions for people will harm our ecosystems: “Almost every story submitted spoke about people’s love for our island’s natural environment and the need to protect it. Smart solutions will see us use less water, energy and resources than how we currently live and build. But we can’t lose sight of something else we depend on tremendously: people. Please don’t settle for simplistic ‘people vs environment’ or ‘environment over people’ responses to this pressing issue. Let’s lean into the complexity and do big things together as a community that make us a more sustainable and more just place to call home.”

2 Comments
  1. Charles says

    Yes, it is certainly appropriate for governments to find solutions to housing shortages. My recommendation is heavily tax second homeowners as Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Barcelona, Paris, and counting have already done with a 200-600% tax rate.

  2. marie stevenson says

    Having lived on this island for nearly 30 years, I have watched as short-term vacation rentals, Air BnBs and their ilk took over what was once a great rental pool for those who needed long-term rental situations for whatever reason. I have also seen many second home house buyers who live in another country and are absent three-quarters of the year leave their homes empty or rent short term without a thought about how this disrupts a community. Zoning bylaws are only part of the problem.

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