Seventeen came to this ASK Salt Spring gathering to welcome MLA Adam Olsen. We were also pleased to welcome his staff, Laura Parker, Outreach Coordinator, and legislative assembly Interns Kayla Brent and Jacob Schoeber. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, Adam spoke briefly about interns Jacob and Kayla, telling us that they are integral parts of the BC Green Caucus team, often participating in and contributing to highly confidential conversations.
When we began by asking Adam what excites and delights him, he responded that there were only four days left in the Legislative session, beginning the longest break in the year. While he welcomes this time to focus on constituent issues, the transition brings a big change to his patterns, often including a loss - he loves his time in the Legislature.
Adam spoke briefly about a comment, often repeated by political strategists, that the work in the legislature doesn’t matter because no one is paying any attention. He countered this. From his experience, British Columbians are, indeed, paying attention. Also, they had elected representatives - like him - to pay close attention to the work. This is a responsibility that he takes seriously.
We then launched into another discussion about housing that took virtually all of our time together. As most of us know, Short Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs) are illegal on Salt Spring Island. Many would agree that this illegal designation has resulted in many ignoring the bylaw while others leave their otherwise suitable accommodations empty - neither of which seems to be a particularly-good solution.
There is the possibility that the province will pass legislation as early as this fall requiring registration of these dwellings. In Adam’s opinion, this possible legislation would give us needed data about dwellings in each community, allowing this important data to be shared by provincial ministries for better policy decisions. This requirement for registration could also pave the way for the licensing of these dwellings. Cognizant that there must be a balance on Salt Spring between rental housing and short-term visitor accommodations, Adam saw this registration as a possible first step toward a solution.
While some participants seemed to see this as a logical way to address the hundreds of illegal STVRs on Salt Spring, others saw this as problematic. One asked why owners of these STVRs that are currently being rented under the radar would register. Isn’t it logical, this participant asked, that they would also refuse to register their dwellings? According to Adam, new legislation should require SVTR platforms (like AirB&B and VRBO) to only allow licensed accommodations to be listed.
A participant shifted the conversation to speak about the many potential landlords who refuse to rent. He spoke of the difficulties many landlords have with renters and the fear others have of finding themselves in the same situation. Adam reminded us that good stories are seldom repeated and that statistics show relatively rare rental/landlord disputes presented to the Residential Tenancy Branch (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/residential-tenancies). Despite these statistics, this participant reminded us that word travels fast in our community: One bad rental experience often results in many vacant rentable suites. Adam agreed with this characterization and noted that he is aware of the tricky balance that must be struck between tenant/landlord rights. He has heard from many property owners in recent years who have taken their properties out of the rental market because of the changes to the rules.
This led to a discussion of what we could do to better support landlords and tenants. Community-based support systems in place in other communities were mentioned as a possibility to address potential conflicts before they go to arbitration: (https://www.findhelp.org/greater-bakersfield-legal-assistance-(gbla)--bakersfield-ca--landlord-tenant-assistance-center/6389612118278144?postal=93301). Some in the room saw the wisdom and simplicity of such a community initiative supporting renters and landlords; Others reminded us that these issues can quickly become contentious and a local nonprofit may not want to take the risk.
As a step in this direction, Housing Now will soon be coming to Salt Spring to match potential landlords and employees needing housing, hopefully to be housed in the Chamber. Stay tuned. . . .
A participant lamented that it is totally legal to build a huge home big enough to house eight but illegal for more than one family to occupy - often only a couple. He asked Why can’t we find a way for homes to accommodate more than only family members? What about co-housing communities like Roberts Creek? (https://www.robertscreekcohousing.ca/)?
We spoke briefly about bylaw enforcement, called by a participant the snitch system, too often pitting neighbours against neighbours. Adam told us that many other communities also rely upon complaints to trigger enforcement. There is simply not enough bylaw enforcement in most communities to proactively seek infractions. A participant suggested we put our efforts into support for those not adhering to bylaws rather than punishment. Why not set up systems to help those struggling rather than complaining and seeking punishment?
Some believe that Salt Spring has a culture of ignoring bylaws. A participant suggested that this challenges the entire system. Shouldn’t we, instead, seek to develop and adhere to minimum standards and work together to maintain them? Instead of enforcement, why not seek community buy-in and voluntary regulation of these agreed-upon standards?
When asked what housing legislation he expects this fall, Adam is in a wait and see mode as well. Will this legislation exclude Islands Trust areas? How would blanket provincial regulations impact Salt Spring? While there are no answers yet, Adam fears that this legislation will focus its emphasis and funding on large urban areas where provincial goals can be more easily-achieved. This would allow the Gulf Islands to continue building large, single-family homes that simply do not meet our unaddressed needs for below-market workforce housing.
As 1:00 was fast approaching, we shifted gears briefly to touch upon our large Improvement Districts, North Salt Spring Waterworks and Fire. Despite repeated requests to the province from both of these large districts to allow them to apply for provincial infrastructure grants, Adam reiterated that the province is unwilling to relent. Instead, the province provides a path to these grants: Develop a governance relationship with CRD. While this has not happened to date, a participant offered some hope that these Improvement Districts may see oversight by a successful Local Community Commission as a promising route for them.
On this note, we thanked Adam and his staff for his wisdom, willingness to share this thinking with us, enthusiasm for addressing complex and difficult issues, and simply enjoying being with us each month. (Thanks, Adam. Laura, Kayla, and Jacob!)
As we packed up our chairs and said Goodbye, Adam dashed off to his interview with our radio station, CHiR.FM, linked here: (https://chir.fm/answered/ep5-housing).
Please join us this Friday, May12, 11-1, in the SIMS Lobby (former Middle School) to welcome CRD’s Gary Holman.
With all the attention this Local Community Commission election is getting, surely you have many questions for Gary. Maybe you would like to ask him:
What would you like to accomplish at the first Local Community Commission meeting in June?
How are you going to bridge the knowledge gap between the dissolved volunteer Commissions and our newly-elected Local Commissioners?
How soon do you think Local Commissioners will need to begin focusing their efforts on the 2024 budget?
Hope to see you this Friday, May 12, to welcome Gary!
ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!
***New fundraising option***
You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.
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Our Partners. . . .
Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.
A heartfelt Thank-You!