Solutions

I don’t believe in complaining about problems without offering solutions.

I have previously outlined a number of actions which can be taken by our locally elected representatives, known as “local trustees,” to alleviate the housing crisis on Salt Spring.

This article will again offer those solutions.

  1. Legalize all 900 potential seasonal cottages on Salt Spring which were not legalized under the recent Bylaw 512.
  2. Legalize the use of suites on every property on Salt Spring.
  3. Rezone all Rural (R) and Rural Uplands (RU) properties to allow for a density of one permanent dwelling per 2 acres. (e.g. 10 acre properties may have up to 5 dwellings), with the following restrictions enshrined on title:
    1. On properties with more than one dwelling, all dwellings must be strata-titled via a building strata with designated common property and limited common property,
    2. Each building strata lot in excess of one dwelling on a property, must be covenanted, in favour of the Islands Trust, to restrict the sale price of the dwelling to the actual cost of the construction and sale, plus 25%. E.g. – Cost of construction and sale $200,000 – Sale price = $250,000, with a maximum ceiling sale price of $300,000 (as of 2020).
    3. Resale value of secondary dwellings will be restricted in the covenant to the purchase price plus the accumulated average, annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase, on Vancouver Island and the Capital Regional District, plus improvements up to a maximum of $5,000/yr, and $25,000 cumulative.
    4. Similarly, rents are to be pegged via covenant at a rate no more than 10% above amortized monthly cost of equivalent sale price at current 5 year fixed rate term mortgages. (e.g. $300,000 sale price = $1276/month, 5 year fixed, 25 year amortization. Add 10% = $127.00 = $1403/month rent. )
    5. Sales and rentals of secondary dwellings will be restricted to those who meet island resident/employee eligibility criteria.
  4. Apart from Islands Trust covenant ONLY CRD Building Inspection water, septic building code requirements need to be met prior to issuance of building permit.
  5. Tiny homes, Z240RV trailers and 5th wheels, are to be included within the definition of “mobile home” within the Land Use Bylaw.

Note that at the proposed maximum sale price, $300,000, minus 25%= $240,000 divided by approximate cost of construction $300/sf (2020) = 800 sf. maximum. Thus by capping the sale price, and profit, there is an automatic, de facto, tflexible, cap on the size of secondary dwelling size.

Given the caps are related to CPI’s, the theory is, as time moves along, pricing should follow suit.

Some of the components of the above solutions aren’t mine. I was advised of them in 2003 by Whistler Housing Authority consultant, Tim Wake.

Tim subsequently tried to get the message across to Trustees in 2011, but his advice was actually censored by them (see my expose at https://islandstrust.wordpress.com/2020/02/05/hopefully-post-mortem-comments-on-512/ ).

The benefit to the Community in implementing the above solutions is that they allow private property owners to become part of the solution. The 25% profit margin and caps, with reduced red tape, work hand in hand to encourage community housing creation.

All of the above bylaw changes could easily be implemented in less than 6 months.

BUT, that would require political will power that is apparently virtually nonexistent.

Crisis “Redefined”…

Definition of crisis

1a: the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever

b: a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function

c: an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life e.g. – a housing crisis

2: the decisive moment (as in a literary plot) e.g. – The crisis of the play occurs in Act 3.

3a: an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending especiallyone with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome e.g. – a housing crisis, the island’s rental crisis

b: a situation that has reached a critical phase e.g. – the employment crisis caused by the housing crisis.

Take your pick of virtually any of the above and ask yourself if, after over 20 years of being in a “crisis,” is waiting another 2 years, or more, to take concrete action at solving the crisis treating the crisis like a crisis?

Sorry Trustees. Not. Good. Enough.

Summation:

1. Salt Spring’s housing crisis has existed for over 20 years.

2. The housing crisis is getting worse, month by month, as rental units are sold and occupied by permanent residents.

3. House prices are now far beyond what any young person or family can afford.

4. Construction costs are skyrocketing and will continue to do so because of the new BC Step Plan building code.

5. MINIMUM combined market bare land lot cost and 1,000sf new construction cost = $500,000.

6. MINIMUM house price for sale of existing stock now $500,000+

7. Rental stock is decreasing every month. Virtually no existing houses are being bought for investment as rental units.

8. Rental rates are increasing every month due to low supply and high demand.

9. 23% (10,000+ acres) of our entire island’s Douglas fir forested area is already preserved and protected in perpetuity in conservation covenants and parkland, and yet is not managed.

10. Island employers and employees are severely impacted by the housing crisis.

11. None of the current “affordable housing” projects are “owner occupied”…they are ALL rentals, thereby condemning occupants to a lifetime of rental servitude.

12. There is an insignificant number of illegal Short Term Vacation Rentals as evidenced by the only 21 outstanding bylaw files on illegal STVR’s.

13. Employees are now being ferried/bussed in from off-island, ala Nantucket Island or Martha’s Vineyard.

The proverbial writing on this wall is clear. The real estate market trends are clear. The NIMBYism and BANANAism trends are clear. The rental trends are clear. Increased construction cost trends are clear.

With all due respect, the only thing that isn’t clear is why our elected politicians aren’t clear that it is far beyond time for studying, bringing in new regulations, and/or more environmental navel gazing.

We are now being told that all we need is to consult with the public, find out what they want and/or need, and then try and please everyone with a solution.

I have news for you. You will NEVER please everyone. If you go down this road of yet another costly, 2 year study, plan, long/drawn out consultation, you will end up not a single step closer to a solution than you already are.

With all due respect again, this is NOT leadership in the face of a 20+ year crisis that worsens by the day, as construction costs follow suit with rising real estate prices. There have been over 45 home sales on the island this year OVER $1,000,000. The average home for sale is already OVER $1 million.

Delays in decision making are expensive as witnessed by the delays in Salt Spring Commons going from a $6.5 million budget to close to $10 million over a period of a few years.

The fact that someone has to ask the Local Trust Committee to place affordable housing on the priority list speaks VOLUMES.

I recommended to one of the Trustees back in December to pass a standing resolution to direct Staff that ANY application before the LTC which had a component of affordable housing be given priority over other applications. I reiterated that recommendation again 3 months later. The Trustee agreed with me in both instances, and here we are, 9 months later and no action.

Real action is needed now, not in 2 years. Trustees were elected to lead and solve land use issues. Under the Local Government Act they are, in effect, elected to ensure sufficient housing is available for their community.

You knew, or should have known, about the crisis before you were elected. You should already have envisioned what is necessary to solve the problem. You should have been prepared immediately to take whatever action is necessary to address the problem.

It is NOT good enough to say, after 2 years into your 4 year mandate, we just need to form just one more committee, consult just one more time with the community (and listen to all the naysayers), get just one (or a dozen) more professionals’ advice on how to solve the problem.

The answers were all available 20 years ago. The answers will NOT be liked by everyone.

To restate, it is, and will be, IMPOSSIBLE to please everyone. The opportunity to secure land for community housing becomes less with the passing of each day, week, month, year.

What IS possible is decisive action. Action that may result in you either being re-elected because you have actually done something to solve the problem, or turfed out on your ear (if you intend to run for public office again) if your proposed solution was unpalatable. Speaking from personal experience, sometimes the right thing to do is not the popular thing to do.

I was once asked, “What’s it like to be a politician?” My response was, “Its like winning a popularity contest, where the first prize is you immediately become less popular.” What I didn’t add on was “…if you’re actually doing your job.”

Salt Spring Island politics shouldn’t be about being loved by everyone. It should be about being able to do the right thing in spite of what a vocal minority says. It is about putting the Community’s interests before a neighbourhood’s interests. There is no “Official Neighbourhood Plan.”

I realize this rant will fall on deaf ears. My rants on the crisis have been falling on deaf ears for nigh on 20 years.

I’m posting this, not in expectation that anything of any significance will be achieved, BUT, in the hope that 2 years from this November, 2 young, creative, visionaries will be elected to do what is necessary to solve the crisis…piss some people off by doing not the easy thing…but the hard thing…the right thing.

I truly hope I am wrong, and this new committee and LTC will bravely go where we need to go, but obviously I am not optimistic given the number of committees and regurgitated studies which have historically come before this “new” proposed committee and study.

I once asked Kevin Bell advice on an issue that was before me as an elected Trustee. Without batting an eye he said, “Why the hell are you asking me? I voted for you because I believed you were an intelligent enough guy that would do what was necessary. Do your job!” I took that compliment and piece of “advice” to heart.

Yes, we elect leaders to….wait for it…lead. To make decisions which, if we use Provincial or Federal politics as any kind of an indicator, will at best, please less than 1/2 the voters.

Be brave, do what you think is right. But PLEASE don’t take OUR time to do it. You may have heard recently that there is a “crisis” going on. Please don’t turn the crisis into another two year, make work project for bureaucrats, like the recent “seasonal cottage” project, or the phased secondary suite project before it, both of which, at the end of the day, did virtually nothing to solve the problem.

Be radical and propose bylaws that will actually solve the crisis, vote on them, pass them, and then stand on your laurels proudly. I can guarantee you many people will hate/vilify you for your decisions…BUT…if you think you’re smart enough to craft bylaw amendments that will increase density in some neighbourhoods (the most basic of necessity in addressing the crisis) without pissing a good number of people off, I’ve got news for you – you’re not…its a fool’s errand.

If, on the other hand, you are NOT prepared to take the heat that will come with ANY decision which will significantly address the crisis, I respectfully suggest you get out of the kitchen now….not 2 years from now…but now…resign and make room for someone with fortitude and the best interests of this dying community.

But there I go again, repeating myself… https://islandstrust.wordpress.com/2019/12/20/dead-end-street-folks/

Yes, there has been a crisis in progress on this issue for decades, now there is yet one more delay in progress…one more study…one more committee…two more years.

Water is not the only thing that’s Leaking

I have a friend who earlier this year experienced a water leak in his system. He only discovered it when he received a bill for over $3,000 from North Salt Spring Waterworks District. He investigated, found the source of the leak, and repaired it.

However, while reviewing NSSWD’s “Leak Allowance Policy” he couldn’t believe what he was reading.

Here’s the long and short of it. If you experience a major leak, which is not in the main line from the meter to your home, you may be held responsible for thousands of dollars of charges.

How in the world is this, in any way, shape or form, representing the best interests of ratepayers of the District?

Let’s look at what actually occurs when there is a leak – water runs, the meter spins, the ratepayer is charged for the water running through the meter.

But, and this is where a major question arises – what is the actual monetary damage to the District? Virtually zero dollars in comparison to the District’s own reported annual leakage from the St. Mary Lake system, which, in 2018 was recorded as 19,282,132 gallons per year.


Even a hundred thousand gallons is literally a drop in the bucket compared to the District’s own leaks, which have been consistently in the 25% range of total water extracted from St. Mary (see chart below)

Read that last sentence again. 25% of all water which is pumped out of St. Mary, and treated (at some cost), is leaked out into the ground somewhere.

Using NSSWD’s billing costs, to calculate a proportionate cost, would mean that leak should be billed at $425,000 a year.

In December last year I asked the Board the question why an acoustic leak survey has not been conducted to identify where the 19 million+ gallons a year is leaking. Cost of the survey would likely be under $20,000.

So, while a number of ratepayers are penalized thousands of dollars for their relatively minor, accidental leaks, the Board has turned a blind eye to major, ongoing leaks, while claiming we are in a water crisis year after year.

Accountability to ratepayers…its a thing….which is also evidently sadly leaking.

PS – The Channel Ridge lawsuit is suing for the promised water supply for about 300 densities. Using the BC standard of 2.5 residents per lot, 230L a day per person X 365 days = 13,868,392 gallons per year…or, about 5 million gallons LESS than what is currently leaking out of the St. Mary system. The lawsuit could claim as much as $40,000,000 in damages…plugging the leaks could make it all go away.

St. Mary Data and Calculations

St. MaryBulkMeteredLossLoss GPY
201385,053,86062,297,98327%22,755,877
201486,074,31164,945,92325%21,128,388
201573,256,77856,670,00823%16,586,770
201680,619,25056,159,76130%24,459,489
201773,757,56054,825,53026%18,932,030
201874,229,22054,947,08826%19,282,132

PPS – Last posted Water Audit was in 2018….