By ROB GRANT
The opportunity to secure the Seabreeze Inne property for long-term affordable housing gives us a chance to reflect on housing challenges in our community and what kind of planning needs to take place going forward.
I see this current issue as being as much about long-term community development as it is about immediate needs. We should be ecstatic to have opportunities available at a time when it feels like the housing crisis is crushing our community. Some key moves right now could really make a positive difference if they are done effectively, by considering the community as system rather than isolated needs and solutions.
I support Lady Minto Hospital Foundation efforts to secure staff housing. I believe there are options that may be explored that can offer far better worker housing than a motel conversion.
Property on Drake Road was donated to the community for that exact purpose and is ready to go. That location would be an incredible asset to staff recruitment and retention for Lady Minto Hospital.
On the other hand it may be in the community’s best interest to have the 28 units at the Seabreeze stay on the developmental track they have been on. That property is working as stable housing for low-income individuals far better than imagined when Salt Spring Community Services initially secured long-term room rentals in April 2020. What were initially extra emergency shelter units have transitioned into homes. The design of the building and location of the property works well, there is no intrusion on neighbours, and support services are nearby. Individuals experiencing homelessness, many with health issues and other vulnerabilities, are off the streets and have regained stability. These community members benefit from housing security like the rest of us. They have endured housing insecurity to a degree few of us can imagine, and they have now found a home. Over 20 people currently live there and there is a waitlist of five waiting for turnover.
Securing 28 homes at a low cost (approximately $175,000 per unit) is a rare and unique opportunity. The provincial government and BC Housing need to be engaged and motivated to make this happen, which should not be a stretch. They have funded the purchase and conversion of motels to long-term housing in countless other communities. David Eby, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing, is aware of the Salt Spring situation and has yet to declare his position. I understand that they are hesitant because they have other plans in mind for supportive housing on Salt Spring, but realistically that is uncertain and may be years away. The Seabreeze could even serve as an interim measure if the plan to put supportive housing on Drake Road is the only path forward for the powers that be. Losing the Seabreeze as current housing squanders an opportunity, and turns our back on the lowest income earners in our community.
Having a home is fundamental to physical and mental health, safety and community well-being. At a time when we are experiencing a housing crisis and opportunities are scarce we must use all available resources and we must use them wisely.
The writer is executive director of Salt Spring Community Services.