Housing crisis? What housing crisis?
April 9, 2011 1 Comment
So, here we are, April 2011, and the affordable housing crisis on Salt Spring continues.
Over the past couple of years I have bitten my “public tongue” to the point of it now being raw, waiting, patiently for the most part, for some indication the Trustees understand we have a housing crisis and are prepared to do something about it.
Having just spent another 5 1/2 hours at an LTC meeting, my tongue is beginning to become calloused.
So, here’s an update on what the Trust is doing about affordable housing on Salt Spring – in a nutshell – effectively nothing.
I know that sounds harsh, what with all of the rosy reports which have sprung from the Trustees, about how they are making wonderful progress, but please, hear me out, it’s been awhile.
Last month, at the end of a marathon 8 hour LTC meeting, and after grappling with the “illegal suites and cottages issue,” for two hours, the Trustees decided to formally split this single issue into two issues – the “illegal suites issue” and the “illegal cottage issue,” which has now fallen off the table for the present.
As of Thursday, here’s what is currently being proposed – Option 1 – potential “legalization” of suites on about 20% of the properties on Salt Spring (which would leave the other 80% of suites illegal), or Option 2 – legalize about 50% of the suites on the island.
This “cup is half-empty (or 80% empty) solution” is meaningless, and will not likely generate an iota of new affordable housing. (Thursday’s Staff Report – “…it is reasonable to assume that any bylaw changes to allow for legal secondary suites will not result ‘in a [significantly] larger island population”).
In fact, if passed into law, the changes could easily, and significantly, reduce the amount of affordable suites, since 50-80% of suites would not only still be illegal, but, those outside of the proposed “pilot areas” would be subject to greater scrutiny by neighbours and the “legal” suite owners within the “pilot areas.” Who wants illegal competition?
Would the Trust enforce against the other 50-80% of the existing illegal suites? Trustee Ehring publicly asked himself that question back in January, and has yet to publicly answer his own question.
However, let’s take a look at the recent (and unreported by the Trust) record for indications. Last summer, shortly after the release of the study showing Salt Spring is in a housing crisis, the Trustees took a property owner to court to force her to discontinue the use of a 700 sf cottage as affordable housing, in the process evicting a young single mother. No one in the neighbourhood had complained. The cottage had been built to CRD building requirements including water and septic.
Doesn’t it stand to reason that if the Trustees are going to “legalize” suites in only 20-50% of the island that they would start enforcing against illegal suites in the rest of the island? Otherwise, what’s the point in “legalizing” a “pilot area” in the first place? Is this some kind of untried social experiment to see how people will react to new bylaws? Will the number of complaints increase, decrease, or stay the same (virtually zero.)
Given the fact the Trust is now proactively taking Westcoast Vacation Rentals to court for…wait for it…the crime of advertising illegal suites, cottages and homes for rent, is the next step in the process going to be the bylaw enforcement officer being directed by the LTC to search for illegal suites being advertised outside the proposed pilot areas? Again, if not, why not legalize them all?
The recommendation from the consultant, Tim Wake, who was hired by the LTC to twice give advice on the creation of affordable housing, was that the LTC should just legalize all illegal suites and cottages and get on to the bigger challenge – providing entry level home ownership possibilities. In other words, in effect the consultant was gently saying “stop wasting your/our time, energy and breath on trying to come up with a fancy ‘pilot area’ approach and just legalize them.” Don’t try and create regulations about how they are to be legalized. Don’t worry about a flood of building permit applications for more suites and cottages, because it hasn’t happened in any other jurisdiction which has blanket legalized suites and cottages. Listen closely – just “L-E-G-A-L-I-Z-E” them.
With all due respect to the “good intentions” the current Trustees evidently have, the good citizens of the island, who are suffering because of their inactions, are tired of walking on that road paved with them.
Now, with virtually no time left in this term, another 3 years has been wasted accomplishing next to nothing on the real problem, other than further identifying a problem anyone with a modicum of intelligence knew about ten years ago.
I have expressed to the Staff and Trustees, on numerous occasions, my opinions, ideas, solutions and concerns regarding their direction on this matter. It is plainly obvious to me, at this juncture, they haven’t listened to me, or the consultant who said the same thing. I can live with that.
But, now is the time they need to hear from you. You, the renters, who are displaced on an annual basis. You, the middle to low income earners on this island, looking to the future. You, the young families, trying to get a foothold in the real estate market.
This is your community and the Trustees are your elected representatives. You outnumber them several thousand to two.
Please, tell them what you think. I just did…again.
Former Salt Spring Islands Trustee (2002-2005)
Note – This posting may be copied and pasted into any social or news media on the condition it is reproduced in its entirety and unedited. – Copyright 2011 Eric Booth