By ROBERTA MARTELL
This is a difficult letter to write, so please try to hear what I’m trying to say.
As we are all well aware, housing on Salt Spring is a multi-cause mess: Our failed national housing policy has allowed nests to be commodified into nest-eggs, prioritizing profits over people. Our unique local governance structure is nearly impossible to navigate, turning aside many well-intentioned community members trying to build affordable housing. Our water moratorium not only chokes new builds but has also led to the gentrification of marginal properties that have water. And sky-high demand has driven house prices off the charts, leaving many unable to buy.
To offset daunting mortgage payments, many have taken their secondary or basement suites off the traditional rental market, opting for more lucrative nightly vacation rentals. As a result, the bulk of de-facto workforce accommodation on Salt Spring has been displaced by over 500 nightly vacation rentals. People previously inhabiting those suites have been bumped to more and more marginal housing. Many workers have moved away, shuttering businesses, and many who have stayed are resorting to creative vagabonding and boondocking: in forests and tents, vans and boats, mouldy trailers and leaky RVs.
In the midst of all this, as executive director of the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation, I suggested we put in an offer to purchase the Seabreeze Inne. Here’s why:
I believe that some housing is better than no housing.
The shelter was only ever a temporary arrangement agreed to by the Seabreeze owner. He gave Salt Spring Island Community Services the first right to buy the property to keep the shelter open, but SSICS was unable to secure sufficient partnerships or funding to buy it. BC Housing has been clear that they will not purchase the Seabreeze, choosing instead to develop purpose-built supportive housing on Drake Road. This sealed the shelter’s fate and the result became a scramble for BC Housing and Community Services to rehouse the people currently sheltering in the Seabreeze.
We stepped in with an offer only AFTER the Community Services offer fell through. Rumours that the groups are in competition are false. We were cheering for Community Services to buy this property. But once that deal fell through, our option was to let it sell to a tourist operator or try to save it to create rental housing.
We are working with BC Housing, Community Services, elected officials, local agencies and housing advocates to help address the need to transition their clients to appropriate housing. We have extended our potential possession date in order to have more time to help find solutions. To this end, Kisae Peterson and I agreed to a housing committee meeting on Dec. 3 where all relevant groups will convene.
We believe the Seabreeze’s highest and best use is not as a motel but as a multi-unit community housing asset. While the potential of 14-16 new residential rental units feels like a drop in the bucket, they are essential to helping fill the hospital’s 31 staff vacancies. Lady Minto is open 24/7 to serve us all when we need them. Let’s be here for them when they need us.
IF the hospital foundation is all about partnerships, why not partner with Community Services?
Also, how can groups talk about this issue without mentioning the need for real transparent government? Islands Trust doesn’t enforce their own STVR rules, our CRD director does not provide clear information about talks with BC Housing, which is really the CRD housing committee which collects taxes from us and has several new projects in Victoria.
The hospital foundation could easily buy a few houses for housing.
Converting the commercial property also means less commercial tax dollars, meaning every single taxpayer is making up the difference.