Why “Vacant” Homes are Part of the Solution Long Term

Subtitle – “A Cow Named Density”

sacred cow

Rather incessantly I hear people say that vacant homes on Salt Spring are a reason why we have a housing crisis.

Uh…no…that’s not even remotely why, and, I’ll tell you why, and, why vacant homes are part of a solution to the housing crisis long term….stay with me here.

A vacant home is owned by someone, and, the likelihood is THAT someone, given they aren’t living in the vacant home, is living in another home somewhere else part of the year.

On Salt Spring, vacant homes usually are only vacant for maybe 8-10 months of the year, the rest of the time they are occupied, usually from Mayish to Septemberish, since the island is a world class spot to be in the late Spring, Summer and early Fall. Hardly any bugs, nice temperature, long daylight hours…and, to top it off, in Canada.

So, “vacant homes” would be better to be referred to as “semi-vacant homes,” which wouldn’t be available for renting full time, year round, to someone who needs a full time rental home.

The idea of extra-taxing “semi-vacant” homes is a separate matter, which I won’t get into in this piece…but, I will explain below why semi-vacant homes are actually a good thing when it comes to our current taxation.

The single largest issue which arises whenever the subject of additional development on the island is brought up is the local sacred cow we have, that goes by the name “Density.”

Density, long term, refers to the total number of legal homes, apartments, suites, townhomes, and mobile homes which can be built on the island.

Currently, that number is approximately 8,000. 5% of that is 400, which is what the current seasonal cottage bylaw is suggesting legalizing for potential rentals (an ill-conceived a proposal, in its current form, as there ever has been).

Now, 8,000 densities x 2.1 people per house average (2016 Census) = 16,080 people at buildout.

That’s about 6,000 more people than our current population.

BUT, we need affordable housing for the middle class, since currently you need to make $200,000/year to qualify to buy the median priced home on the island ($850,000).

Clearly, the “affordable” component will not be part of the 8,000.

And this is where vacant homes become a benefit to the community.

IF we say we need an additional 3,000 homes, at an affordable level, our buildout density would become 11,000 x 2.1 = 22,110 people.

BUT, if 25% of the 8,000 market homes were vacant, the year round population would drop by 4,040 to 18,070.

IF we could ENCOURAGE 40% of homes to be vacant, the population would drop by 7,070 to BELOW our current buildout population.

And yes, during the summer months our population would rise to around 22,000 for a few months, but, for the balance of the year we would actually have a SUSTAINABLE population of around 15,000.

The added bonus, is that the 25-40% of homes which were semi-vacant, would still be paying their share of taxes.

Realistically (and everyone reading this should come to grips with what I am about to say), vacant homes are not going to magically become affordable rentals.

Realistically, the number of rentals on the island is going to continue their current downwards trend, since, rentals are investment properties which eventually will be sold to someone who wants to move to Salt Spring. The average house for sale on Salt Spring in early 2020 is $1,024,000.

So Salt Spring, time to sober up and face the future…semi-vacant homes aren’t the problem, but, they can become part of the long term solution…but, first, and with apologies for the analogy to all animal lovers and vegans out there, we have to slaughter the cow named Density. We can do it humanely, and with acceptance, so that future generations of middle income residents will thank us for having the fortitude and vision to do what is necessary to create a truly sustainable, diverse community.

The alternative of course is to do nothing, and watch as the middle class continues to be turned into fodder for the sacred cow no one wants to talk about.



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