Salt Spring’s Local Trust Committee (LTC) has given first reading to a bylaw meant to help ease the rental housing shortage on the island.
A bylaw change allowing homeowners to set up secondary suites in all zones, including in accessory buildings, was one of the Housing Action Program Task Force’s recommendations made in the summer of 2021.Trustee Laura Patrick characterized the bylaw presented to the LTC on April 19 as a work in progress and she is eager to hear from would-be landlords and all residents of the island about what they want to see included in the final product.
The intent of the bylaw, Patrick said, is to allow would-be landlords to provide rental accommodation to tenants in nearly all zones on the island. Bylaw 530 “does not represent the finished product, at all,” she stressed. It will now go out to agencies, groups, First Nations and the public for feedback.
“A first reading purely signals that we want to talk to the community.”
An accessory dwelling unit (ADU), according to the bylaw, is a unit that is accessory to a single-family dwelling and intended to be independent and separate. An ADU could be contained within a house or as an accessory structure, including “tiny homes, garden suites, seasonal cottages or full-time rental cottages.” An ADU could also be a mobile or manufactured home, the bylaw stated. The proposal does not include RVs or detached dwelling units on wheels as ADUs.
Patrick said wording about tiny homes should be removed from the bylaw, as they are generally smaller than a building permit allows, aren’t allowed under provincial building codes and should be dealt with separately. Yet as an important “rung on the ladder” of home ownership, Patrick feels they should be dealt with.
The bylaw lists requirements of accessory dwelling units detached from a home, including that the floor area is a maximum of 90 square metres, on a lot 1.2 hectares or larger, is not located in a portion of a lot identified as a community well capture zone and is not on a lot with a duplex or multi-family dwelling.
Property owners would be allowed only one detached ADU per lot.
If located in a community water system, water for any ADU has to come from alternative potable water supply or have written confirmation from the community water system operator that the site has sufficient capacity to supply the unit.
Patrick clarified that the bylaw does not create new density, which detractors may claim.
“It’s simple math. We’re saying a primary residence plus one ADU, whichever form you choose to use, equals one single family unit.”
She referenced existing properties that have a primary residence and a cottage, noting that the cottage does not change the density.
“[When] planning, we always have to assume that a large family is going to live there. So when you do your original zoning or planning . . . [a lot could represent] a household of six, seven, eight, 12,” she said. “Just because I live in a house, and I now have somebody living in my cottage, that doesn’t change the density of my lot.”
The staff report presented to trustees April 19 mentioned numerous issues that need further analysis in order to support ADUs in all zones. These include reviews of how the bylaw aligns with the official community plan and the Islands Trust policy statement, which is undergoing an amendment, as well as potential effects on the island’s infrastructure, water districts’ concerns about limited water capacity and building code restrictions.
In a written report to the LTC, housing task force chair Rhonan Heitzmann stated that the bylaw falls short of the principle that the task force hopes to see established.
“In order to find the willing landlords and make use of all available buildings, the permission needs to be extended as broadly as possible, and a way should be found to cap the total numbers to limit the overall impact on population growth.”
Heitzmann said with some tweaks before it is adopted the bylaw is “close to the best we are going to get at this time, given the constraints of the official community plan and limited resources to explore more innovative solutions.”
How many ADUs will be allowed under Bylaw 530, and how these would be counted or monitored, is still to be determined. Regional planning manager Stefan Cermak said this is “one of the biggest questions we have. Because the building footprint is allowed, logic says ‘What’s the difference?’, but the legal interpretation could be different. And we just don’t have that.”
Patrick said the LTC wants to hear from the public, including would-be landlords. Specifically, she wants to hear about what kind of controls they would want to see on establishment of ADUs. These could include voluntary covenants like Central Saanich has established, use of a registry, limiting lot sizes or other mechanisms.
Rather than putting some parts of the island off limits, which makes a narrow pool narrower and might prevent an appropriate lot within a certain zone from pursuing an ADU, Patrick wants the bylaw to be more specific about what a good lot is.
“This bylaw doesn’t authorize thousands of units. We’re casting a wide net, but we only want hundreds of units to come out of this,” she said at the April 19 meeting.
From potential landlords, Patrick wants to hear how the Islands Trust can make it a fair, equitable and not overly burdensome process for them.
“There’s already enough hurdles” for establishing this kind of housing on rural properties, Patrick said, including building permits and acquiring water and sewer services.
A 2020 Capital Regional District (CRD) housing needs assessment estimated that an additional 601 households would form on the island between 2016 and 2025.
In his written report, Heitzmann related an anecdote about a local carpenter and their family who are losing their rental in June. Despite a significant household income, well above the median on the island, the family did not qualify for a mortgage large enough to buy a home on Salt Spring. They applied for a $3,000-a-month rental home along with 30 applicants, and were outbid.
“I fear that we have reached a point where even if all our best recommendations are implemented it will be too little [too] late,” he wrote in his written report to the LTC.
Patrick characterized the workforce housing crisis on the island as “horrific” with over 30 vacant positions at the hospital and people living in their vehicles or in the 80-odd live-aboard boats in Ganges Harbour alone.
“When you’ve got single moms rowing out to these boats with a baby, and it’s because this is her community and she lost her housing . . . people who are putting themselves into more and more marginal situations that are becoming dangerous . . . That breaks my heart.”
“We need to do a thousand things to fix the housing problem. All this is doing is trying to make it easier for people who want to be landlords on this island. And there aren’t very many of them,” Patrick said. “We’re trying to control housing and we need to be equitable about it and we need to be realistic. And we’re going to have to solve this problem. No action is not acceptable.”
Draft Bylaw 530 and the associated staff report is on the Salt Spring Islands Trust website page.