Affordable Solutions

April 11, 2011

To – Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee

Dear Trustees,

I want to once again express some of my thoughts to you on the subject of Community/Affordable Housing.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but here is what I think we know now:

  1. Tim Wake’s (the consultant brought in to advise the LTC) advice, based on other jurisdictions experience, was to legalize suites and cottages outright.
  2. We currently have approximately 200 – 600 suites and cottages being rented out.
  3. With rising real estate prices the trend will be less, not more suites and cottages being rented out. This means, all things being equal, 5 years from now there are going to be fewer illegal suites and cottages than there are right now.
  4. Also with rising real estate prices there are less market rentals (fron Janis Gauthier’s housing needs assesment report)
  5. The Stats Canada numbers Janis has quoted stated there are 795 rentals on the island, and for arguments sake, lets say none of them are suites or cottages (albeit unlikely), so it is safe to say we currently have less 800 legal rental homes.
  6. The evidence from other jurisdictions suggests there won’t be any increase in the number of suites and cottages if they are legalized since economic reasons are the primary driver – what we see (or don’t see) in the way of illegal rentals, is what we have.
  7. 75% of island homes are estimated to contain only 1 or 2 people.
  8. Illegal suites and cottages likely occur in every zoning, including watersheds.
  9. CRD is not interested in entering into, or maintaining, housing agreements for single units – i.e. suites and cottages
  10. If you proceed with a “pilot areas” suites and cottages outside the proposed pilot areas will become deer in the headlights of complaints. It would only take one person inside the pilot area, who has gone through the process of spending say $20,000 to upgrade, or create, a “legal” suite to take offense to those outside the pilot area who are flaunting the new law, to have dozens of people evicted. And don’t for a moment think those kinds of people don’t exist on Salt Spring.
  11. The OCP conditions regarding taking an “incremental” approach to legalization were placed there in 2008, prior to what we know today. The fear was there would be a rush to the CRD building inspection office if suites and cottages were legalized. There is absolutely not a shred of credible evidence to support that fear.

Given the above information, like Tim Wake, I have to ask what are the downsides in just legalizing existing suites and cottages?

If it is extremely unlikely we are going to see a proliferation of new suites and cottages created for rentals, and we’re certainly not talking about any additional impact on water, sewer or the environment than what we have right now.

Since our bylaw enforcement is usually based on complaints, I am of the opinion the number of formal complaints against illegal suites and cottages could be used as an approximate gauge of public opinion as to whether the community has already accepted the estimated 200-600 illegal suites and cottages as a necessity.. I suggest you ask staff, “How many complaints against illegal suites or cottages have there been in the past 5 years?” My best guess is that there have been, at the most, a handful.

From what I witnessed at the LTC meeting in March, with all due respect, I think this issue is suffering from “overthink.”

I would recommend you take the time to meet with the real estate community (including the property managers on the island) and listen to their views on the subject. They are the one local group most in tune with the subject. They deal with homeowners, suites and cottages (legal or illegal), and live with the trends daily. I would be happy to try and arrange a brainstorming session on the topic with them. We held one back in 2007 or 2008, with Trustees Ehring and Lamb, but the consensus from this side of the fence was the LTC wasn’t at that time ready to listen to what was being said. Perhaps its time to revisit the advice given.

Any action the LTC takes which may potentially decrease rentals on the island will likely be met with strong opposition. And, I suggest the pilot area approach comes under that category

Personally, I think you have too many significant items on the LTC’s plate to do any of them a real service (housing, RAR, Climate Action, applications, etc.), and, from an objective viewer, it is clear the strain is starting to show on staff as well. Given you only have 7 months left in your term of office, I appeal to you to (a) take pause, seriously consider taking Tim Wake’s advice, and rethink your current approach to housing,  (c) have staff develop a bylaw to just legalize suites and cottages everywhere on the island, (d) pass the bylaw, and (e) meet with the real estate and development community (as Tim Wake also suggested) to discuss potential long term solutions to housing ownership affordability which may be addressed in the next term.

While you have no “deadlines” (other than those self-imposed) for completing any of the work on your agenda, the housing crisis is, without a doubt, the single issue which is causing the most impact on this community. Please don’t make it a priority, make it THE priority.


Eric Booth

109 Frazier Road

Salt Spring Island, BC

V8K 2B5

One Response to Affordable Solutions

  1. Tim O'Connor says:

    Thanks Eric for all your time and research on these issues. I am sure that we are at some sort of tipping point as to how our island should and will be governed in the future and people like you spending the time and effort to highlight these concerns is making people sit up and take notice. I have said in the past “If your not pissed off, You are not paying attention”

    Tim & John

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