Are We Actually on the Verge of Crafting a Solution to our Housing Crisis?
Thirty gathered to welcome Salt Spring Solutions board members, Elizabeth FitzZaland and Mairi Welman, for a discussion of their recently-released housing paper, Homes for Islanders -- An Integrated Housing Solutions Framework for Salt Spring Island (https://www.saltspringsolutions.com/).
After their Territorial Acknowledgement, we were all asked: How many of you have read our report? A significant number had, in fact, read it.
Mairi then offered the context around the creation of Homes for Islanders. Last year, despite a rather significant effort by the volunteers of Salt Spring Solutions to raise public awareness about the housing issues on our island and actively campaigning for Bylaw 530 approval, the LTC did not legalize secondary suites.
Salt Spring Solutions board members concluded that, while their campaign had significantly raised public awareness, they had not been effective in achieving change at the policy level. They decided to take a step back, and they spent the summer discussing what strategic impact they wanted to have in our community, how they could achieve their goals effectively, and how they wanted to show up as members of our community while doing that work.
Salt Spring Solutions’s goal now is to step away from activism and bring more people-power into our island’s decision-making processes. They will work to help Salt Spring evolve into a community that can work effectively together solving complex issues and make the sometimes-difficult decisions on how to improve lives and protect our island ecology.
Salt Spring Solutions envisions being part of a community that works across areas of interest and issue-based divisions to identify key problems that require attention, to open up closed or obscure decision-making processes, and convene dialogue to find community-led solutions.
Up first, the team will convene a workshop in mid-June with speaker Gord Baird on recent changes to regulations regarding use of rainwater catchment for potable water in multi-family buildings. At the end of June, the team is holding a facilitated workshop with the Islands Trust, Capital Regional District, and North Salt Spring Waterworks District to discuss opportunities and barriers to working together on the housing issue. Then, after a summer break, the group will begin public engagement. Watch the Salt Spring Solutions website (https://www.saltspringsolutions.com/) for more information.
While housing on Salt Spring has been a primary focus of Salt Spring Solutions since 2018, the team could see that the decades-worth of reports, housing needs assessments, studies, brainstorming sessions, and recommendations were not moving the dial on meeting our island’s housing needs. While we do have a few success stories, such as Croftonbrook, these successes tend to be in spite of the system rather than as a result of a sustained, comprehensive, and effective approach to housing.
Thus, after countless volunteer hours and almost a year to complete, this housing solutions framework, Homes for Islanders, was born - a compilation of the best work already available including successes locally and in other communities, leading edge best practises, synthesized recommendations, and the articulation of a systemic approach for addressing the crisis. Enriched by the recommendations and review of a wide range of professionals, Mairi and Elizabeth see this framework as a vehicle to convene dialogue with key organizations that have a responsibility for housing.
Encouragingly, within a week of publication, it was the topic of discussion in a meeting between our MLA Adam Olsen, our Trustee Laura Patrick, and Ravi Khalon, the Minister of Housing.
The framework proposes five key strategies, all of which are:
Achievable within current local, regional, and provincial regulations.
Support smaller scale housing types with less adverse environmental impacts than single family developments.
Support efficient use of land, water services, and infrastructure.
Do not require large scale forest or sensitive ecosystem clearing.
Are financially viable to develop and operate.
Improve the availability/affordability of long-term housing options for the range of household types - single, couples, families, etc.
Are compatible with or enhance island community characteristics such as self-sufficiency, interdependence, low impact living, and neighbourliness.
Support increased use of transit and/or active transportation.
The first participant to speak began by enthusiastically congratulating Mairi and Elizabeth - and other Salt Spring Solutions board members and staff - for their fine work. Mairi and Elizabeth were then asked about the reaction they had received from our elected officials. In an effort to walk the talk and take a collaborative approach rather than an activist approach, all of the agencies identified within the framework were briefed before it was released publicly. The reactions from our elected officials have been unanimously positive.
Our special guests were then asked to identify the successes from other communities that could be quickly implemented here. Elizabeth responded that the Cowichan Valley Regional District work has been an inspiration to her, with both short- and long-term solutions: (Cowichan Housing Association - Helping House Cowichan).
Locally, Elizabeth believes that the Islands Trust’s Standing Resolution not to enforce bylaws on non-confirming dwellings during the housing crisis is an example of a quick and meaningful action that has provided some protection to island renters. A participant noted that our various homesteading communities has created some amazing living options. Unfortunately, they are illegal and, as such, residents are vulnerable to future bylaw enforcement.
We learned from Fernando de Santos that Dragonfly Commons (https://dragonflycommons.com/) has already spent eight years making its way through a dizzying regulatory gauntlet. Finally making progress, we learned that, unlike eight years ago when Islands Trust offered no help, both Islands Trust and CRD are in total support of finally completing this 30-home worker housing project.
Despite years of frustration over water regulatory issues (they have plenty of water), Fernando is hopeful that the solution being crafted with CRD will not only remove that hurdle for Dragonfly Commons but will also pave the way for other nearby worker housing projects. In closing, he credited some of the momentum helping his and other projects to the volunteer efforts of the community groups: Salt Spring Housing Council, Salt Spring Solutions, and ASK Salt Spring. (Kudos to us!)
Another participant spoke of the circle of fear among those who have rental spaces but are afraid to rent them. He is convinced that Salt Spring has a large inventory of underutilized affordable housing. He spoke of his large home and the thriving intentional, intergenerational community he and his partner have created. Not only is it a good, supportive community but it also provides added income to ensure that he and his partner can remain in their home. Unfortunately, he told us that it is illegal.
A participant, recognizing that housing is not within the scope of services identified for the Local Community Commission (LCC), asked what newly-elected Local Commissioners can do to help? Elizabeth replied that, in addition to being part of the interagency housing discussion, Local Commissioners will have responsibility for CRD economic development activities, with worker housing squarely within its scope. A model that may be of interest is the work of the Southern Gulf Islands Electoral Area Economic Development Sustainability Commission where housing is addressed as an Economic Development issue (Southern Gulf Islands Housing Strategy | CRD and Housing NOW – SGI Community Resources).
The Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Workforce Housing Strategy is similarly being led by Economic Development Cowichan (www.planyourcowichan.ca/workforce-housing). Elizabeth hopes that the LCC will dive right in and get to work addressing our hosing crisis.
In addition to best practices from other communities, these Salt Spring Solutions board members believe that other systemic problems need to be addressed. While Croftonbrook did receive CRD Regional Housing Corporation funding, the CRD funding model is structured to primarily support urban housing. What about joining the Southern Gulf Islands-led effort to develop and advocate for a more rural funding approach through our CRD’s Regional Housing Corporation?
It is the belief of the Salt Spring Solutions board members that now is the time to educate, convene dialogue, seek community-led solutions, and implement these solutions. The interest, motivation, need, and sense of urgency are all there.
From looking at other successful community initiatives, a logical conclusion seems to be that there must be a lead entity that can be a central hub to work with the various government agencies and utilities. It appeared to be the consensus of this ASK Salt Spring gathering that such an agency must be quickly identified and given the needed funding, mandate, and authority. Could this agency fit under the mandate of and report to the CRD Regional Housing Corporation?
While the acknowledgement for the Salt Spring Solutions’s framework was shared widely in this ASK Salt Spring gathering, one participant did question the study’s recommendation to consider swapping zoning on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land in the Ganges Village area. This participant argued that we can build all we need in Ganges without using protected farmland - and pitting farming against housing.
Elizabeth reframed the issue by explaining that it’s not housing against farming, it’s housing AND farming. Some ALR land in Ganges is not being used to its best purpose with no farming taking place at all. A thoughtful inventory of all available land in and around Ganges must be made so that our community can discuss and decide how to move forward, fully-informed and intentionally using our core village for the best needs of all.
As 1:00 was approaching - and before applauding Mairi and Elizabeth for their amazing work - we learned that, if Salt Spring Solutions volunteers are to continue with their proposed housing dialogues, they need our support to sustain their organization. Want to help? Get Involved — Salt Spring Solutions.
Time to leave, we expressed our appreciation for the hard work of these committed volunteers, Mairi and Elizabeth, and their energy and expertise creating this very valuable, action-spurring paper. (Thank-you, Mairi and Elizabeth!)
Our next ASK Salt Spring, this Friday, June 2. 11-1, is even more special than usual: MLA Adam Olsen will be joining us AND bringing Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming to this important conversation!
As we expect quite a few to join us, our ONE TIME location will be Mouat’s Meadow, on Seaview, just past ArtSpring.
What would you like to ask them?
What about our potholes: Do you think you are giving Emcon enough to adequately-maintain our roads?
What about paving? Do you think that our roads are being repaved and upgraded often enough? What are your plans for the next five years?
What about painting? We are told that the road safety painting budget is a fraction of what is needed. Do you have plans to address this?
What about pedestrians? Traffic calming, like lowering speed limits and more, better-placed crosswalks, are pretty simple. Why can’t we just do it?
When do you see bike lanes all the way to Fulford completed?
Please join us at the Mouat Meadow this Friday to welcome MLA Adam Olsen and Minister Fleming!
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
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings and
monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings?
Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.
We love your receipts! Remember: #15
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!