Open Letter to Trustees – Community Housing Strategy

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:
  • Tim Wake’s (the consultant brought in to advise the LTC) advice, based on other jurisdictions experience, was to legalize suites and cottages outright.
  • We currently have approximately 200 – 600 suites and cottages being rented out.
  • 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.
  • Also with rising real estate prices there are less market rentals (fron Janis Gauthier’s housing needs assesment report)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 75% of island homes are estimated to contain only 1 or 2 people.
  • Illegal suites and cottages likely occur in every zoning, including watersheds.
  • CRD is not interested in entering into, or maintaining, housing agreements for single units – i.e. suites and cottages
  • 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.
  • 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,  (b) have staff develop a bylaw to just legalize suites and cottages everywhere on the island, (c) pass the bylaw, and (d) 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.

As always, if you like what I write, please click on the Subscribe button on the top of the site, and pass along “Trust Matters” to your friends and neighbours.

6 Responses to Open Letter to Trustees – Community Housing Strategy

  1. Donn Tarris says:

    I’m interested in hearing the response.

    A real community is based on allowing its residents to build equity. This will eventually need to be addressed.

    For now, everyone needs a good roof over their heads and some stability, especially in light of the current global economy. Make the long term rental suites and cottages legal. I would add that it would be good to also ensure that they are livable, but worry that this could be misused or that it would still result in a reduction of rental suites due to landlords not being able to afford bringing suites up to code, or that they just wouldn’t want to spend the money. In the end, we would end up with the loss of more homes.

    As I say, I’m interested in hearing the response.

    • getting poorer says:

      There’s another side to this debate. Landlords are finding it increasingly difficult to find renters that can afford even a reasonable rent amount. Seems like the rent and utilities are chronically late and there’s many many stories of renters bailing on their responsibilities. Affordable housing only makes sense only if the island has a strong economy. Property taxes and insurance premiums are pretty well going up while jobs are on the decrease. This will be a difficult divide to cross. I’m not hopeful.

      • Donn Tarris says:

        And with the increase in utilities cost I also am not hopeful. For myself, I am currently paying an increase of about 30% for electric due poor insulating of the house, which I don’t own.

        Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs to watch movies like “Secret of Oz” to understand the purposeful shrinking of the money supply and understand how this affects us right down to the local level.


  2. Donn Tarris says:

    Perhaps tackle this in a separate post, but it amazes me that here on our island, where I think general consensus would like to see a reduction in the number of cars on the roads, we still have no community collection of garbage and recyclables from homes.

    As one who has given up my vehicle due to its cost and my belief that we should be able to have public transportation that works, it is difficult to manage the disposal of garbage and recycling. This is enough of a problem that I contemplate getting another vehicle to counter the negative effects of no garbage collection, no curbside collection of recyclables, and nowhere near enough coverage with public transit (both in areas served and days/hours of operation).

    This ties directly into homes, in particular wherein the residents do not own cars. I know for a fact that this puts more strain on any accessible garbage containers on island, as well as our ditches and natural areas. This is not meant to excuse those who litter or abuse garbage containers without locks, but we should be making it as easy as possible to maintain our natural surroundings through proper collection of refuse.

    This would seem to fit in very well with “preserve and protect” mandate… I’d like to see the trustees pushing for these three important initiatives – garbage, recycling, public transit.


  3. Hi Donn

    Garbage, recycling and public transit are in the hands of the private sector (e.g. Hedger and Blackburn Transfer Station, John Quesnel’s recycling and taxis) and the CRD i(Hartland Dump, the Recycling Center, and the Bus system.)

    The Trust is only in charge of “land use” not services. Just imagine them running the services….

    • Donn Tarris says:

      True, I don’t envision them actually managing such services, only that they would be serious supporters of it being set up. I do know about the private sector offerings, but they are elective. The trust were instrumental in the OCP, which is actually a very overall governance issue, as opposed to just playing a part to ensure the “preserve and protect” mandate. An official community plan would hopefully address the needs of the community, which would include the services I mentioned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: