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  • Gayle Baker

Affordable Housing: Both Successes and Stumbling Blocks

September 11:

Fifteen participated in this ASK Salt Spring gathering that welcomed special guest CRD Director, Gary Holman. (Three others listened outside the circle in the shade of the apple tree.) The focus of much of the conversation was upon affordable housing progress and the stumbling blocks impeding this progress.

The discussion began with a question about the proposed CRD affordable housing on Drake Road, property donated by School District 64. We learned that, while BC Housing continues discussions with CRD about a project on a portion of that property, there has still not been a definitive decision that Gary can share.

The developer of the proposed 30-home Dragonfly development spoke to us about recently obtaining water certification for this affordable housing development. (The process to get this certification from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development - FLNRORD - took two-and-one-half years to complete.) With a very high flow (90 gallons/min), there had been no concerns about sufficient water. But, this certification process brought a surprise: When tested over a 72-hour time period, this 90 gallon/minute flow translated to only 9-gallons/minute.

While this was enough for Dragonfly, Gary was asked whether there was sufficient water for the CRD Drake Road development. While Gary had been informed by CRD and BC Housing that there was a sufficient water supply, he will confirm this information.

We also learned that, with this certification, the Dragonfly project is poised to move forward. For several years, there has been the debate: Should Dragonfly provide purchased or rental homes? While BC Housing will support rental projects by offering approximately $100,000 per unit, the income rules qualifying those allowed to rent excludes many on Salt Spring.

After much debate, it appears that Dragonfly will build 800-1,200 square foot purchased homes designed to accommodate those in our workforce who do not qualify for assistance but who need an affordable place to live if they are to remain on Salt Spring

Unfortunately, by the time that the infrastructure costs have been added to the building costs, these homes are projected to cost approximately $300,000 for a smaller unit and up to $400,000 for a larger unit. While still affordable when compared to other homes on Salt Spring, the workforce Dragonfly was conceived to house may not be able to afford them.

Switching to a discussion of the North Salt Spring Water District (NSSWD) moratorium, we learned that our lake levels have been monitored for nearly five years and that an analysis of these studies is due early in 2021. Also, a peer review of the justification for the NSSWD moratorium is also underway. It is possible that this information may result in NSSWD reconsidering the moratorium.

Gary cautioned that, if the NSSWD moratorium were lifted, it could open up the opportunity for all new developments, not just affordable ones. It was suggested that, when one carefully reads the law, it is reasonable to conclude that, while areas that have been paying for years, like Channel Ridge, must be the first to get permits, NSSWD may have the legal right to prioritize affordable housing projects over the more-expensive housing projects when giving new permits.

We were reminded that Drake Road affordable housing developments will be unlikely to be allowed to proceed without improvements to that narrow road. Although past Transportation Commissions recommended support of Drake Road improvements, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) has not yet defined the requirements for Drake Road. The reason for this is that, as purchased housing, Dragonfly will have to apply for a subdivision permit. When that application is referred to all relevant agencies, it is likely that MoTI will outline Drake Road requirements as a condition for approval.

It was asked whether improvements to Drake Road could be done at the same time that Ganges Hill is repaved next summer. While this might be possible, we were reminded that MoTI has a fixed amount budgeted for this repaving project. If Drake Road were added, it is possible that the length of Fulford-Ganges being repaved could be shortened.

But, if improvements to Drake Road could not be done at the same time as the Ganges Hill repaving project next summer, Gary reiterated his continuing support of - at a minimum - addressing the extremely-dangerous intersection of Drake and Fulford-Ganges Roads.

When safety in Centennial Park was brought up, Gary said that he is pleased that the RCMP and CRD Bylaw Enforcement officers are working together more effectively. While good news, the problem of those in our community who have no place to gather and shelter still needs to be addressed.

Gary spoke of his support for distributed gathering and sheltering places rather than big encampments. He spoke of the problems in Victoria and shared with us his extreme disappointment that the CRD Board had recently refused to allow their Oak Bay Manor to be used to shelter seniors in need. While some of this decision may have been made due to concerns that the Manor needed renovation to be safe and comfortable, Gary countered that it was surely far better for seniors than sleeping outdoors or in tents in our fast-approaching inclement weather.

Locally, Gary continues to work with Community Services regarding options for small, temporary encampments for those needing a place to gather and shelter. Gary was asked about the Rainbow Road property managed by PARC. Couldn’t this area be used for a small, temporary encampment during this emergency? Also - what about areas of Mouat Park?

One participant shared her experience of homelessness - both here as well as in Victoria. She told us that when one experiences it, one quickly forgets life skills - things as simple as combing ones hair and brushing teeth. When housing is provided, support is also needed to regain these life skills. She suggested that shared housing was a good way to regain these important skills.

We were reminded that this problem of too many in our community who are inadequately-housed is the result of many, many years in which our senior governments have the ignored this problem. And, that it will not be solved without years and years of focus, funding, and creativity.

How much input does our community get into senior government decisions about these issues?

We were told that advocacy is very important. It is only through our local knowledge of problems and solutions that senior governments can even begin to solve the issues that challenge us. It is up to us to develop unique community-based solutions and advocate with our senior governments for the funding required to implement them.

One solution was proposed: a commercial kitchen where inadequately-housed folks could gather to prepare their meals together. If they could also have lockers, showers, a place to get mail, and, maybe, even a few rooms to sleep, many concerns could be addressed. One participant told us of his efforts to locate a space for such a gathering place and his confidence that, once it is located, donations and grants will provide the funds needed to make it happen.

While stumbling blocks may seem overwhelming, we were reminded that there is the land - either in private hands or publicly-owned - for seven affordable housing developments in our community. Gary has contacted the owners of Norton Road and Bracket Springs, both of which have been rezoned for affordable housing, with no promising outcomes. Two projects, Salt Spring Commons and Croftonbrook will begin welcoming residents this fall. MeadowLane is seeking financial support from BC Housing and, if approved, could be breaking ground soon. Dragonfly has received water certification and is ready to move forward. It is hoped that CRD and BC Housing will soon announce a project on a portion of the CRD Drake Road project.

Gary credited Islands Trust with never rejecting an affordable housing project. He was countered with the comment that the years it takes to get Islands Trust approval has caused far too many projects to die of neglect.

Concerns were expressed about the number of vehicles parked along the waterfront on Lower Ganges Road, many of them with For Sale signs. While a concern for many years, during the construction along that road for the North Ganges Transportation Project (NGTP), worries about pedestrians are significantly more serious. While pedestrian safety is the responsibility of the NGTP contractor, Don Mann, many share concern for our pedestrians at this dangerous spot. Gary and Transportation Commissioners will follow-up on this concern.

As 1:00 approached, we were told of a serious problem at St Mary Lake caused by tourist campers on Tripp Road. While Tripp Road is an MoTI responsibility, the lake provides drinking water for many. Gary will continue to address this issue with the various responsible agencies.

At 1:00, we thanked Gary for joining us and creating a very interesting discussion. Some then packed up chairs, taking their last cookie packet until next week, while quite a few others gathered into small groups to continue the conversation.

Interested in participating? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering this coming Friday, September 18, from 11-1 in the United Church Meadow to welcome our MLA, Adam Olsen. (If it rains as predicted, we will gather in the Portlock Picnic Pavilion. If we gather at Portlock, masks will be required. )

All are welcome to ask questions, listen to those of others, and participate in lively conversations.

Socially-distanced chairs and safely-made chocolate chip cookies provided; Bring your favourite beverage, curiosity, and a smile.

No time to sit in the Meadow? Any question, anytime:

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

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