Twenty-nine joined us for this ASK Salt Spring gathering welcoming MLA Adam Olsen and Constituent Advocate Jerram Gawley. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we began a lively, philosophical, complicated, and quite wonderful conversation about housing in the context of just-passed Bill 44 (https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/bills/billsprevious/3rd42nd:gov44-3).
After acknowledging ASK Salt Spring, beginning its fifth year of convening rich weekly conversations, Adam began by speaking briefly of the fascinating, frustrating just finished legislative session, calling it one of the most challenging in his 15 years of government service.
While happy to have a break, he is also saddened that he must wait until the Legislature reconvenes in the middle of February 2024 to re engage in his opposition responsibility of keeping our government accountable. He mused that these Legislative sessions could be more effective if they were scheduled so MLAs met more regularly throughout the year with a break every few weeks rather than their current blocks of legislative intensity followed by breaks lasting several months.
We then launched into Adam’s concerns with Bill 44. Deeply opposed to it, Adam began by referring to his two-hour speech on November 7:, summarised in his blog: https://adamolsen.ca/2023/11/12000-words-on-housing-affordability/.
Bill 44 will force municipalities to approve up to six units on a single-family lot in order to create more market housing. Eliminating the need to hold public hearings for multi-unit projects, those opposed worry that this one size fits all approach ignores carefully created community plans as well as taking away local government’s ability to listen to residents, concerned about the future of their neighbourhoods.
Adam’s opposition is grounded in his strong brief that Bill 44 illustrates what is wrong with our system: Rather than forcing our provincial and federal governments to support below-market housing, this bill places the responsibility upon the private sector to create affordable housing. Dependent upon a simplified version of supply and demand theory, he believes that our government is counting on our profit-oriented sector to create so many homes that their prices will drop.
In Adam’s analysis, this simply is not happening. Citing the thousands of units being built in the Victoria area while prices continue to increase, Adam is convinced that Bill 44 will not meet our affordable housing need. By passing this bill, Adam told us that we are naively believing the myth that all housing is the same and that those needing affordable housing will somehow - magically - be accommodated in the private sector housing market.
While owners and developers are increasing their wealth, those needing below market prices continue to be forced into a housing market that they cannot afford. Estimating that over 100,000 British Columbians pay over 50% of their income for housing, without respite from this burden, many will not be able to stay in their too-expensive homes. Instead, they will soon join the growing numbers of people facing housing insecurity and homelessness. In his opinion, Bill 44 simply does not target housing to those who need it most, blindly expecting market forces to solve the crisis.
Housing Minister Hon. Ravi Kahlon claims that the BC NDP government is supporting both profit-motivated and below-market housing. In Adam’s opinion, the focus on profit market solutions is far greater than the support for desperately-needed below-market housing.
Adam reminded us that less than 200 hundred years ago, our entire province was under one title, illegally given by the Crown to the Hudson Bay Company. As soon as James Douglas arrived, that process of dividing and dividing again began, multiplying titles on property that formerly had not been privately owned but was the landscape to which he and his ancestors belonged. Introducing a different worldview of inhabiting a space, this conversation could be better explored at a future ASK Salt Spring gathering.
Communities all across Canada are living with the consequences of this profit motive, seeing more and more who have no housing, that essential element for health, work, strong families, and a resilient social fabric. Without secure housing, too many are living in boats, vehicles and in the rough. . . and, Bill 44 will do nothing to help them. In Adam’s opinion, Bill 44 has a chance of further increasing the wealth gap in our society between those who own property and those who do not. During Bill 44 debate, Adam spent a considerable amount of time speaking of a November 2023 Stats Canada study that shows the potentially devastating intergenerational impact of unilaterally turning single property owners into multiple property owners.
Interested in solutions, Adam suggested that BC Housing (https://www.bchousing.org/) purchase already-existing homes, repurposing them as multi-family homes and renting them at below market rates. Rather than only focusing on purpose-built developments, he believes that purchasing existing housing could be a practically-instant solution to address at least a portion of our housing crisis.
Strongly supporting public investment to create affordable housing, Adam warned us against strategies like Bill 44 that create wealth without addressing poverty. He reminded us of the Canadian government’s ongoing experiment of creating poverty on First Nations reserves, warning us of the potential parallels with Bill 44 by too-heavily focussing on private sector solutions to provide housing affordability for a third of British Columbians.
While strongly opposing Bill 44, Adam also asked that Salt Spring - now excluded - be included in this bill. While Adam was prepared for the Minister to either accept his amendment or reject it, he wanted to demonstrate to his local Islands Trust colleagues who requested inclusion in Bill 44 that somebody was listening and prepared to act. He is aware that BC NDP government has repeatedly ignored the needs of Salt Spring. Not fitting perfectly fit into their solutions, what Salt Spring needs appears to be too difficult for the Minister to address. The continuing refusal of the province to allow Salt Spring to assess the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/taxes/speculation-vacancy-tax) is one of many instances in which Adam believes that Salt Spring is ignored, left without the tools to help itself. Calling Salt Spring The canary in the coal mine, Adam is concerned that unaddressed, Salt Spring’s challenges will soon be replicated throughout his riding.
Before we launched into questions for Adam, he also reminded us that Bill 44’s solution of multiplying the number of homes on a property has environmental implications. As we face more frequent heat domes, removing the tree canopy on properties by building to the limits of the lot line could have far reaching unintended consequences. We learned a term that was new to some of us: Urban Containment Boundary (https://toolkit.bc.ca/tool/urban-containment-boundary/). And, Salt Spring does not have one. . .a concern were Bill 44 extended to our island as our community could be left with limited ability to protect our natural environment.
The first question Adam was asked was what he could do to make BC Housing more responsive to opportunities. Citing the nearly shovel-ready MeadowLane community on Kings Lane (now proposed as 50% senior housing and 50% worker housing), this participant was deeply discouraged that BC Housing had used a weak excuse to refuse funding. He lamented that BC Housing too often turns away rather than embracing opportunities to help create much needed housing on Salt Spring. Adam promised to follow-up on this apparent BC Housing misstep.
Unfortunately, others in this ASK Salt Spring gathering had similar criticisms of BC Housing, wondering why it appeared that BC Housing was more interested in saying No! than helping Salt Spring address its affordable housing crisis. While remembering that BC Housing does fund our important Community Services shelter, in the opinion of many, BC Housing too often fails to support our housing needs. Some believe that its commitment to purpose-built housing blinded them to the opportunity of acquiring the SeaBreeze Inne when it was for sale.
Instead, BC Housing focused on the development of the 28-unit supportive housing community on Drake Road. While a 2024 completion has been promised, many are skeptical, citing the years since it was announced with little progress to date. The site of the recent eviction of campers and van-dwellers, this Drake Road property, owned by CRD and leased for 60 years to BC Housing, is a central focus of much frustration and anger.
Adam was asked for his suggestions addressing the needs of Salt Springers who have nowhere to live. A number of participants with lived experience of homelessness spoke with passion of the devastating social cost of not being able to live securely, work, and raise children in a safe environment. Those who spoke were united in their confidence that they could care for themselves and their strong community if only they had land. Totally understanding - and having spent hours and hours meeting with Salt Springers concerning this problem - Adam reminded us that we were not alone. Recently driving Victoria’s Dallas Road, now littered with No Overnight Parking signs, Adam’s response was What the hell??? Committed to continuing to work with us to solve this problem, we all recognized that time is running out as temperatures drop below freezing and as many as 100 in our community have no warm, secure place to sleep.
Adam asked us if we knew about Duncan Village (https://www.cowichanvalleycitizen.com/news/city-of-duncan-wants-to-see-more-models-of-the-village-in-b-c-847994). He credited good local government with its success and positive impact upon the stability of its citizens. Citing the fragmented (by design) form of our local government and the enormous percentage of time he and his staff spend on Salt Spring issues, Adam asked what local tools we need to successfully-address our own problems. What about our new Local Community Commission (LCC)? Will this new form of local service delivery have the tools it needs to make a positive change? Clear that his office has neither the funding nor the capacity to solve our challenges, he welcomed a conversation about the tools needed by the LCC to move forward decisively and successfully.
Before leaving us until Friday, January 5, Adam leaned forward and with passion declared: I am bloody honoured to represent Salt Spring! Generating a round of applause, we began to disperse, appreciative of Adam’s deep care about the issues that mean most to us, willing to stand alone to support his strongly-held principles, hard work to hold our government accountable, and willingness to leap in to help whenever asked. (Thank-you Adam and Jerram!)
Please join us this Friday, December 8, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome your Local Community Commissioners.
As Elizabeth May will be joining us January 12 in the place of Local Commissioners, this will be their last time at ASK Salt Spring until February 9. 2024.
What would you like to discuss with them?
Is is too late to offer suggestions for cuts to the 2024 CRD budget?
What are your top priorities for 2024?
Are there challenges impacting your effectiveness? If so, how will you address them?
In your first six months, what have you accomplished?
Please join us this Friday, December 8 to welcome Local Commissioners and talk about all things CRD.
Did you know that ASK Salt Spring now has an Event Organizer? Grand Fredrickson has stepped up to identify special guests and and coordinate their visits. . . Wahoo!
Who else would like to help? Maybe you would like to take charge of weekly media? Do you see yourself facilitating? How about writing reports? Or. . . ?
Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!
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 questions, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings,
monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.
Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered
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!