Editorial – One small form of housing action can be taken now

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Salt Spring trustee Laura Patrick’s dedication to tackling our island’s housing crisis, with support from her fellow trustees, is admirable. 

A lack of affordable housing is the one problem that almost all island residents are aware of and can identify as needing some concrete attention, even if their own housing situation is secure. Difficulty attracting and maintaining qualified workers due to a lack of housing is something that impacts everyone who lives on the island. To not do something about it could be viewed as an irresponsible act by those we have elected to lead our community. 

The Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee (SSILTC) has stepped up in recent months by creating what is dubbed a Housing Action Program, with a task force about to be created. It has done so even though it is but one government agency whose policies contribute to residential housing or a lack thereof. One could  argue that since the Trust’s original mandate was and remains one of environmental preservation, that it is not the most appropriate body to be leading the housing charge.

Ironically, an application that is before the SSILTC at its next meeting on Feb. 16 blatantly illustrates the conflict inherent in the way the Trust does its business. After years of bylaw enforcement pressure, a property owner wishes to legalize through rezoning a north-end cottage that has been used as a rental property for some 25 years. It is currently lived in by a young woman who works in a retail business on Salt Spring. 

This person’s home is on the chopping block, and if a Trust staff recommendation is followed by trustees, it will perpetuate the trend of the island’s rental stock shrinking one dwelling at a time. 

We don’t want to rain on the Housing Action Program parade before it is even assembled. Some practicable recommendations will hopefully and assumedly arise from its work. But how absurd is it to be pouring untold amounts of energy and resources into another housing study on one hand, while on the other to be forcing the eviction of exactly the kind of person the program aims to house.

The Housing Action Program charter references a need to promote “art of the possible” thinking in its work. The SSILTC has a chance to do just that in the case of the north-end cottage.

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