Salt Spring’s Version of the Fukushima Meltdown – Residents Evacuated by Government

The Fukushima Crisis

The world watched in horror as the nuclear crisis at Fukushima unfolded and was mismanaged day after day, week after week. It was apparent the corporate officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) at first didn’t want anyone to know how bad the situation was. Next, the company’s officers’ ineptitude and failure to report to the public the magnitude of the problem was evident. That was followed by the less than adequate measures being taken to prevent further damage. And, now, here we are, some two months later with residents within 20 km displaced from their homes, possibly for decades.

Salt Spring’s Fukushima disaster? – The Community Housing Crisis.

The mismanagement of this crisis also lies with two corporations – the Islands Trust Council (ITC) and the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee (SSILTC). The effective “Shareholders” of the SSILTC are the electorate of Salt Spring Island.

The housing crisis was effectively born out of the formation of the Islands Trust in 1974 and the failure of government planners to project what would happen if development was limited, in one of the arguably nicest spots to live in the world. The Trust ignored the real estate maxim that when you restrict supply of available land in demand, property values will continue to increase over time.

The first indication of this crisis was recognized in the early 1990’s. The SSILTC corporation established committees of Shareholders to examine the problem. Solutions were offered to the corporation, but, none were effected. That was followed by study after study, committee after committee, with no effective remedy ever being implemented.

After having myself  been elected as a corporate Trustee, I took measures to start addressing the crisis. During my term of office we (a) approved the Murakami Gardens project (27 units), (b) approved the Norton Road Affordable Housing rezoning (26 units)  project and gave it 3 readings (but, to this day the project remains stalled by the current SSILTC), and (c) acquired funding for accurate mapping of existing and potential housing densities, and (d) established what I hoped would be the last committee (boy was I wrong) to provide the basis for major changes to the Land Use Bylaw to support community housing.  The final report of that committee was presented to the new corporate Trustees George Ehring and Peter Lamb in December of 2005.

Since 2005, there have been numerous additional reports, studies, needs assessments, and strategies brought forward. However, in 2008, in what now can only be seen as a regressive move, Trustees Ehring and Lamb made changes to the Official Community Plan that would, 3 years later, create a false roadblock to the legalization of suites and cottages – the concept of using a “pilot area” approach to the crisis.

Consultant Hired to Advise on Crisis

Most recently the SSILTC hired consultant Tim Wake to provide his experienced advice to the situation. His sagely, bottom-line advice, given first at the corporation’s “Special/Secret Meeting,” held on January 31st, with no members of the press or pubic present, was to simply legalize all illegal suites and cottages, and get on with the real challenge – providing entry level, home ownership opportunities for residents (details at the end of this post).

Did corporate Trustees listen to Mr. Wake’s advice…advice that would help to begin bringing an end to the crisis?

As first reported in the Islands Independent,  ( see http://islandsindependent.p2ionline.com/flip/sitebase/data/editions/134316/img/large/2252307.htm ) history now clearly shows us not only did they not listen to the advice, they have actively tried to destroy and suppress evidence of its very existence.

A strong allegation, but, one which, I submit for your judgment, is proven below.

Suppression and Erasure of Consultant’s Advice on Crisis

February 10th – SSILTC Meeting

The draft minutes, of the above mentioned January 31st meeting, were presented to the corporate Trustees on February 10, 2011 for approval. However, the minutes were not approved. Instead, the Trustees passed the following resolution regarding the draft January 14th and January 31st meeting minutes.:

SSI-20-11 It was MOVED and SECONDED that the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee defer discussion of the above captioned two sets of draft Minutes. CARRIED Regional Planning Manager (RPM) Hartley will circulate revised Minutes for approval by a Resolution-Without-Meeting.

As noted, for reasons which are unrecorded, discussion on the draft minutes was “deferred.”

However, and for some unknown reason, RPM Hartley was going to ensure that “revised Minutes” would be circulated to the Trustees for approval. But, since discussion had been deferred, how could approval take place without discussion?

March 3, 2011 – SSILTC Meeting

The record indicates the draft, revised minutes were not circulated or approved prior to the March 3, 2011 meeting, nor were they even mentioned in the March Agenda package. Rules of Order are that minutes are to be adopted in historical order, not randomly. This provides proper context.

April 1st – Where are the Minutes?

The Agenda Package made available to the Public the week prior to the April 7, 2011 corporate meeting, also offered not a trace of the as yet to be adopted January 31st minutes. They appeared to have disappeared off the table.

Deadline Imposed by Shareholder

Following the release of the April 7th Agenda package, RPM Hartley was evidently demanded, by a Shareholder, in writing, to produce approved minutes of the Jan. 31st meeting by April 8th. That “request” evidently prompted a late revision to the April 7th Agenda to include the approval of the January 31st minutes as circulated.

April 7th – SSILTC Meeting

4.4 Draft Minutes of the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee Special Meeting, January 31, 2011. By general consent, the minutes were adopted as circulated.

Where’s the Discussion?

The public record indicates there was no public discussion of the minutes, which suggests one of two things (a) there was no discussion by the Trustees of the minutes since the early February LTC meeting, or, (b) the discussion of the minutes was held outside of the public’s eyes and ears, and/or, (c) the minutes were amended  by Islands Trust Staff for some, as yet to be determined, reason.

When and Why were the Minutes Sanitized, and, by Whom?

A comparison of the draft minutes, in the February Agenda package, and the final adopted minutes of April 7th, indicates a major edit occurred.

In the original draft there were 1779 words of recorded comments. In the adopted version, the comments had been slashed to 282 words.

85% of the original comments were eliminated, struck from the official public record.

What went “missing”? Every single piece of advice from the consultant, Tim Wake.

Further, the fact that “No members of the public were present” was also stricken from the record.

Why Eliminate a Paid Consultant’s Advice from the Pubic Record?

To understand the answer to that question, I recommend you read the full text of the original draft at the end of this post.

As you are reading through it ask yourself why every comment from Tim Wake was eliminated from the minutes by the Trustees. 

What possible benefit could be gained by the removal of Mr. Wake’s advice? The only plausible reason is that Mr. Wake’s advice is contrary to the direction the Trustees have chosen to go in. In my opinion, which I have provided to the SSILTC in writing, and posted on this blog, the Trustees are entirely misguided, and, their proposed “solution” will do absolutely nothing to increase the supply of affordable housing. In fact, there is good evidence to suggest it may have exactly the opposite effect – worsening the crisis.

Suppression of Video Containing Mr. Wake’s Advice

And, just before I leave you to your reading assignment, consider this – At the beginning of the SSITLC’s February 21st Public Discussion on Suites and Cottages, at which Mr. Wake also provided advice, RPM Hartley stated that because the content of the meeting was so important to islanders, the SSILTC had hired a videographer to record the meeting, and, that the video of the meeting would be posted online for those who could not make the meeting that night.

To date, over 2 1/2 months later, (a) the video has not been provided to the public, (b) has not been posted online, and (c) no mention of the video appears in the public record. Fortunately, Shareholder Jill Treewater, also recorded the meeting and has made the video and audio available to the public free http://www.imaginesaltspring.com/tim_wake.html

Where’s the video the Shareholders paid for?

Fukushima Salt Spring Style

The housing crisis continues, unabated, with no real solutions on the table. Residents have been evacuated within a 20 km radius of Ganges due to high housing costs, and this community is in meltdown, while corporate Trustees twiddle their collective thumbs and prioritize transforming ditches into streams.

My Conclusion?

Having been a big supporter of “Fun with Phonics,” the attitude of our corporate Trustees in this crisis can perhaps be best described as  “Fukusaltpring, we don’t need no stinkin’ consultant’s advice.

As a Shareholder, I submit, this is just not good enough. The slow death of this community, as a result of the housing meltdown, is now being caused by failure, on the corporate government’s part, to listen to experienced advisers.

While Salt Spring burns, our Emperors fiddle about, singing soothing songs for the masses, about how they are making great strides to deal with the crisis, when in fact, less than nothing is being accomplished.

Move over red-legged frog, they’ve just added the average citizen to the endangered species list.

Eric

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”  www.islandstrust.org to your friends and neighbours.

FULL TEXT OF ORIGINAL DRAFT MINUTES OF THE JANUARY 31ST SPECIAL SECRET MEETING:

The Chair asked each Trustee and guest for their priorities for the day’s discussion using the circulated “Guidelines for discussion with Tim Wake”.. The following priorities were articulated:

– How to maintain affordability other than with housing agreements;

– How to use the local bylaws to control affordable housing;

– Housing agreements;

– Creation of a housing council and the Whistler experiences;

– Water supply;

– Discussion should be grounded in the reality of the current situation;

– Pilot areas within the Salt Spring context; and

– Best approach to existing suites and cottages.

The Trustees outlined the key issues on Salt Spring Island for Tim Wake.

Tim Wake commented that the Salt Spring Island situation is similar to Whistler insofar as there is a challenge to supply both workforce housing and “other” supportive housing. It’s important to keep the two separate. The gap between people who can afford market ownership housing and those who qualify for subsidized housing has grown. This is referred to as middle sector housing or workforce housing and represents the biggest need.

Wake noted that there is a good system in place for the delivery of subsidized housing which requires major funding from senior levels of government.

Wake suggested that putting housing agreements on rental units is not the best approach given the cost. It’s better to respond to people who want to own their own homes and consider how to make ownership possible for these people. This in turn will reduce pressure on the rental inventory. The first thing to do is to legalize suites.

Janis Gauthier observed that the seasonal use of cottages is an issue on Salt Spring. It means many people have to move each spring. There are concerns about the poor condition of some cottages.

Tim Wake said that Whistler had success enforcing and inspecting units based on health and safety issues. When they hear about substandard conditions, the fire department is asked to inspect.

There are concerns that legalized cottages could be used as short term vacation rentals. Rental agreements would better ensure there are controls.

Tim Wake explained that Whistler had the same problems with suites as with separate buildings (cottages). Secondary suites have always been permitted in Whistler and initially the market was providing them at a rate of about 50 per year. For the owner, the suite provided security and helped with the mortgage. In 1990 and 1992 when house prices rose, the number of new suites decreased. About 1997, Whistler required that every second residence in a new subdivision include a suite before the owner received an occupancy permit. The suite had a covenant on it that specified occupancy and rent. This was not a good solution because suites were being built under duress and never rented. Enforcement of the housing agreements was difficult. The conclusion was that you can’t force people to rent suites in their houses.

Other communities (Bowen Island, for example) have not had a lot of uptake with straight legalization of suites even without any income or rental restrictions. Adding a housing agreement would likely reduce the uptake further.

Planner Palmer asked if having a housing agreement on a suite or cottage would affect the owner’s ability to get a mortgage.

Tim Wake responded that it is usually not any more difficult to get a mortgage, but when doing a statement of income, the owner can only apply 50% of the rent as income. Thus with a lower, more affordable rent, it may be tougher to get a mortgage. This leads to vacation rentals being so attractive.

The Whistler Bylaw requires that suites be rented for not less than one month. In addition, commercial accommodation is taxed differently. Another tool is the Occupancy Declaration on employee owned deed-restricted units. They started with a Statutory Occupancy Declaration, but abandoned that. Now it’s voluntary and compliance has improved; 66% of 500 units complied.

The Declarations (who was living there, where they worked and the rent amount) are sent by email so it’s easy to administer.

There are no Housing Agreements on the 1000 rental suites. Generally owners didn’t charge exorbitant rents because when they do, the number of people living in a unit tends to increase, with resultant wear and tear or damage. 850 of the rental suites are market rents; the rest are mostly covenanted and affordable. Suites have always been legal and only a small percentage are cottages. Legalizing suites provides more opportunity for surveillance and assists in managing the existing inventory.

It was noted that the growth rates experienced by Whistler are very different from the Salt Spring situation where only 38 building permits were issued last year. The Chair noted there is a desire to ensure affordability if suites are legalized. Tenants might have more clout if suites were legal.

For Tim Wake, the solution starts with affordable home ownership. If you apply Housing Agreements and restricted rents to suites, you’d be moving middle income tenants out of their accommodation in order to house needier people. Subsidized housing is not a municipality’s responsibility. Housing Agreements are costly up front, and they’re better used on ownership units.

RPM Marlor commented that Housing Agreements can work if governments are providing something as well, i.e. funding, increased densities or other incentives.

The potential for more STVRs operating out of legalized cottages is a real concern, on Salt Spring, and the STVR Bylaw is costly, slow and difficult to enforce.

Tim Wake spoke of one STVR enforcement case in Whistler where bad publicity played an effective deterrent role.

Regarding multi-unit buildings, Tim Wake said Housing Agreements on such projects are not very attractive to developers. You need to be able to bonus the developer to get him to build, and then have some means for the housing authority to take ownership. It’s hard to impose covenants on a third party.

There was a question about available government grants (RRAP for secondary suites), and Tim Wake replied that $24,000 is not a sufficient incentive to shift someone into accepting a covenant on their property. Incentives that do work for developers include an increase in density, relief from fees and charges, and creating good communication opportunities with developers. It’s important to explore where the ‘win-win’ is.

There was a question about the cost of managing Housing Agreements. Tim Wake responded that every project is a one-off, with the standard costs plus, and further, that Housing Agreements seem to need ongoing modification.

There was a question about whether a Housing Agreement with an expiry date might be an alternative, but Tim Wake said it wasn’t really a viable approach.

In general, said Wake, Housing Agreements are not worth the effort for a handful of rental suites, but are worthwhile on affordable owned units. He added that putting occupancy restrictions on owned units did not work. The focus should be on letting the market provide rental suites and finding ways to make it work for the market.

At noon, Henry Kamphof arrived at the meeting. He said there is talk of doubling the CRD’s affordable housing budget and that there should be more emphasis on worker housing.

Traditionally 75% of funds have gone to supportive housing.

According to Wake, continuing the status quo with suites and cottages will have a negligible impact on affordable stock but would affect standards of health and safety and the existence of sub-standard units.

The discussion moved on to the matter of the proposed pilot project for legalizing suites and cottages. The Chair outlined the reasons a pilot project has been proposed, noting it takes into consideration Salt Spring’s water issues and also responds to the results of community consultations. One goal would be to gather data from the participants.

Henry Kamphof spoke about the so-called California model where developers must address different income segments in the community within a development proposal.

Tim Wake reported that Bowen Island is looking at zoning solutions to create opportunities for building more affordable ownership units i.e. zoning to permit smaller units, combining lots to permit multi-family units, upzoning to permit more units; creating more duplexes, stratifying large homes into flats and other innovative approaches to encourage the creation of smaller homes.

He noted that people often don’t want to buy units with Housing Agreements; they commonly see home ownership as the route to a retirement fund.

Returning to the subject of the pilot project, Planner Palmer asked if a time limited Bylaw with a sunset clause might work as a tool to legalize suites and cottages.

Tim Wake responded that it’s better to open a door and encourage compliance, not open a window and require people to jump through it.

Henry Kamphof added that a pilot project would need to run for 3 – 5 years to get a good sense of how it is working.

Trustee Ehring is concerned about how to deal with suites and cottages which are outside the pilot area and are therefore illegal.

Trustee Torgrimson commented that pilot areas would be compliant with OCP criteria and reflect the heightened concern about watershed areas on Salt Spring.

Tim Wake suggested that a pilot area might only apply to new development, and the rest would be grandfathered. He asked if Salt Spring would likely see a lot of applications to build new housing with suites? There could be issues around grandfathering suites which don’t meet building code, a matter which might call for legal advice. RPM Marlor said it would be possible to do a bylaw review when a certain number of suites are registered. If legalization were opened up to the whole island, you could then develop strong arguments for some exclusion.

There was some discussion about jurisdictions implementing regulations around the collection of rain water as a means to resolve water issues.

Janis Gauthier commented that ‘pilot’ implies a sense of temporary or provisional status. It was agreed that ‘pilot’ was perhaps not the most useful term.

Henry Kamphof mentioned that Esquimalt is talking about allowing housing in back yards or on back lanes.

Tim Wake made several closing points:

1) start a housing corporation or authority as soon as possible: regional would be work best for all the islands. It would be an agency that would facilitate partnerships to develop nonsubsidized affordable home ownership. The Whistler Housing Authority is a good example of an agency that brokers between developers and the local government and is not a top-down funded model. Funding comes from the projects, not from taxes;

2) focus on affordable ownership units; and

3) legalize suites and cottages without restrictions.

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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.

Eric
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”  www.islandstrust.org to your friends and neighbours.

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.

Regards,

Eric Booth

109 Frazier Road

Salt Spring Island, BC

V8K 2B5

Housing crisis? What housing crisis?

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.

Eric Booth

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