- Gayle Baker
Our Housing Crisis: Integrated Solutions are Possible and Urgent
Surprisingly, the weather gods smiled upon us and the rain cleared, giving 10 participants another lovely – and at times even warm - day in the United Church Meadow. Islands Trust Local Trustee Laura Patrick began our gathering by speaking about her personal journey of Reconciliation. She then noted that she had spent the week participating virtually in the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference. While there were amazing moments, like listening to the keynote speech by Margaret Atwood, she admitted that she missed the energy and creativity that can happen when meeting together in person.
A couple of takeaway messages from this year’s conference are:
To respond to the climate crisis, COVID crisis, and income inequality, local governments need to reallocate their resources and deploy innovative solutions.
The pandemic has kicked off a migration of people from urban to more rural settings. Salt Spring is already seeing signs of this migration.
Laura believes that we need to be better-prepared to address these issues. She says that now is the time for integrated solutions that address both the environment and socio-economic impacts.
When Laura began speaking about a proposed housing planning project, some participants thought she was speaking about another affordable housing construction project, much like the soon-to-be-completed Salt Spring Commons or Phase 2 and 3 of Croftonbrook. However, Laura made it clear that she was proposing a planning process to address housing rather than a specific project.
The Housing Working Group that she led is proposing a planning process to address the full spectrum of housing on Salt Spring, not limited only to affordable housing. A decades-old housing crisis continues on Salt Spring, along with growing climate and forest crises. She believes that housing is a tool that can help address the climate and forest crises while tackling glaring socio-economic needs that, if not addressed, will jeopardize the fabric of our community. Integrated solutions are possible and urgent.
One new Salt Spring resident, a renter, indicated that he wants to stay here on the island. Unfortunately, when tourists return, it is likely that his rental home will become an Airbnb again, leaving him without a home. He asked that regulations be enforced so that he and many others will not be forced out of their homes.
He also suggested looking seriously at eco-developments, asking why it seems so complicated to build affordable housing projects on Salt Spring. He was told that each affordable housing project faces a number of challenges, from rezoning to securing water and financing. The proposed housing planning process will seek to build community support for innovative solutions to these challenges.
Laura reminded us that there has been considerable change since the Islands Trust was established in the 1970s. Large lots have become very desirable, and those small cottages perched on the shoreline are being replaced with large, stately homes. While preserving the environment was a core value even then, concepts like ecosystem-based management were largely unknown. Laura read one of the principles of ecosystem-based management from the Coast Information Team:
Knowledge of natural processes and human interactions is incomplete and inherently limited, and decisions made in the present can pose unacceptable risks for the future.
Apply the Precautionary Principle and practice adaptive management in decision-making.
Monitor consequences of decisions and adopt a learning approach to planning.
Laura is a strong advocate for an ecosystem-based management approach to land use planning - to retain and enhance the environmental and human dimensions of island ecosystems. She believes that the proposed planning process will lead to new policies and regulations that will increase the quality and quantity of housing options while also preserving and protecting biodiversity and our freshwater, marine, and forest resources.
If approved, a task force will be created this fall to work with Islands Trust staff to establish the foundation of this planning process. By winter, she hopes that community engagement can begin as she is well aware that Islanders must be supportive of visioning and planning a healthy community.
One important component of this discussion is to understand why so many of the recommendations from numerous studies in the past were never implemented. What is stopping us from moving forward to develop more equitable, environmentally-sensitive housing on Salt Spring?
Laura was reminded that limited resources, such as water and infrastructure, should lead us to the conclusion that Salt Spring should not attract more residents. While Laura agreed, she countered that the issue is not about bringing more residents to Salt Spring but about figuring out how to more equitably house our current residents, many of whom fill thousands of island jobs. She shared her shock when she counted up the number of acres being marketed for development right now. Without quick and visionary action, more of the island will be developed and occupied by a narrowing demographic, and more of our island’s fragile ecosystems will be carved up with roads and land cleared for houses.
When asked if Islands Trust was the best agency to shepherd this interagency process, Laura responded that Phase 1 of the proposed housing planning process was entirely within the Islands Trust land use responsibility; the second phase would involve a wide range of other agencies. She also said that the two phases of this proposed planning process are not necessarily sequential.
When asked about the timeline for this process, Laura responded that it must be as fast as possible. She shared her hopes that a community-supported prioritized action plan could be concluded early next year.
The conversation then turned to the topic of working more efficiently with other local trust committees. Laura spoke of the many Official Community Plans, which vary from island-to-island. While she recognizes that each island has its own needs and perspectives, she questions why shoreline rules, for example, are different for each island. Shouldn’t policy and regulations for protecting our shorelines be the same? Could the Short Term Vacation Rental (STVR) regulations be the same throughout the Southern Gulf Islands? Laura says that an important part of her role as Vice Chair of the Islands Trust Executive Committee is to identify opportunities to work better together.
Concerning STVRs, did you know that only bed and breakfasts that operate under home-based business guidelines are legal on Salt Spring? Someone asked why we could not operate like Tofino? Tofino limits STVRs through its business license program. Some participants were surprised to learn that Salt Spring does not issue business licenses. We learned that CRD would have to create that service. Laura said that one positive aspect of business licenses is the collection of data such as how many and what types of businesses are operating and how many employees they have.
We discussed other kinds of useful baseline data. Without data you can’t identify and gage the magnitude of many issues. Data could also be used to measure what we are doing and verify that it is working. Baseline data collection is one of the tasks identified in the proposed housing planning process.
As 1:00 PM approached, we thanked Laura for her vision, enthusiasm, and hard work and asked her what we could do to help get this housing planning process underway. She asked us to read the process overview: You can find the Housing Working Group report in the September 1 LTC agenda package beginning on page 264. If you like what you see, send a letter voicing your support by this Friday, October 2, 2020 to: firstname.lastname@example.org and copy the three trustees: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
Want to learn more? Read her recent article in the Exchange: https://saltspringexchange.com/2020/09/23/housing-working-group-proposes-new-two-phase-housing-project/
Interested in joining us? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering at the United Church Meadow this coming Friday, October 2, 2020, from 11 a.m. -1 p.m., to welcome candidate Adam Olsen. (Portlock Picnic Pavilion if it rains.)
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?