Fourteen gathered at the Library Program Room to welcome CRD’s Gary Holman and participate in conversations about the issues that matter most to us. While these conversations touched upon North Salt Spring Waterworks District, Transition Salt Spring’s federal award of $100,000 for forest restoration, and the possibilities of a Local Community Commission on the October 2022 ballot, the major theme of our two hours together was housing.
The focus of this housing conversation was upon the proposed purchase of the SeeBreeze Inne by the Lady Minto Foundation and the resulting need for accommodations for the 18-20 people currently living there. Gary strongly believes that this purchase by the Foundation is a good thing for our community. After renovations, it will provide housing for health care workers, a high priority in our community.
While the Foundation Board still needs to approve this purchase, Gary warned that if the Foundation dropped out of the sale, the SeaBreeze would likely be purchased by a commercial operator, lost forever to us as affordable housing. Gary acknowledged the Foundation for working hard with our other housing agencies to help implement a housing solution for the current tenants. The Foundation has already delayed its plans to occupy the SeaBreeze to begin renovations until February 15, 2022.
As most of us knew, despite strong advocacy by Community Services, locally elected officials, and other organizations, BC Housing declined to purchase the SeaBreeze, even though they have been buying hotels throughout the province during the pandemic. At ASK Salt Spring last week, we learned from Adam that, while BC Housing has been purchasing these hotels, their preference is for purpose-built housing. They have not yet made an announcement about such a project on Salt Spring Island.
Gary thanked BC Housing for their help funding a number of the Seabreeze tenants during these challenging COVID times. Gary also reminded us that BC Housing, again responding to local advocacy, is providing funding for year round, 24/7 operation of the Community Services' shelter. Both Adam (last week) and Gary credited BC Housing with regularly meeting to explore options for these 18-20 Seabreeze tenants.
Gary recently reached out to Fields who agreed to lend a half dozen small cottages they had brought to Salt Spring, noting that they, like so many of our other businesses, are very community minded. (Immediately after the Windsor fire, the Fields CEO agreed to help and provided a cottage for office space.)
However, finding an appropriate location for the cottages remains the biggest challenge. Participants eagerly jumped in with their suggestions, including:
1) What about the Drake Road property?
2) What about the CRD-owned pool property on Rainbow Road?
3) What about other CRD-owned properties?
4) What about Bracket Springs and the two other Land Trust Properties?
5) What about the Norton Road property?
6) What about addressing this as the emergency that it is and using designated emergency centres?
7) What about petitioning BC Health to allow full-capacity occupation in the new Community Service’s shelter?
1) What about the Drake Road property? Early in our challenging COVID journey, Gary proposed a temporary encampment on the Drake Road property owned by the Capital Region Housing Corporation. While Gary and Community Services’ Rob Grant lobbied hard for this option, it was eventually rejected. Gary has proposed that CRD staff examine the possibility of locating some or all of the Fields cottages on Drake Road if no other suitable alternative can be identified.
2) What about the CRD-owned pool property on Rainbow Road? While there is space for temporary accommodation behind the allotment gardens, this option is complicated by the in-progress master planning process for this property, including the possibility that PARC maintenance may be moved to the Rainbow Road site. This land is also the only site available for indoor recreation facilities, such as the leisure pool.
3) What about other CRD-owned properties? Over a decade ago, PARC proposed selling ten of its local parks largely acquired through subdivision dedications. Gary was not supportive of this initiative at the time because of the large number of properties involved. Recently, he has suggested that PARC assess whether some properties might not be needed for its activities. (Such properties would have to be sold at market value.) If PARC recommends the Rainbow Road site for the maintenance facility, their Kanaka Road property might be considered surplus.
4) What about Bracket Springs and the two other SSI Land Bank Properties? These Land Bank properties are involved in a foreclosure process. They are all currently used or zoned for affordable housing. Community Services and another well-respected off-Island nonprofit (already approached by the Land Bank) are interested in acquiring these properties, but the foreclosure process does not necessarily preclude purchase by a for-profit developer. Stay tuned. . . .
5) What about the Norton Road property? A portion of this property has been rezoned by the Trust, but the owner did not proceed with subdividing this section. Gary has contacted a representative of the owner to see if there was interest in selling the rezoned portion to an affordable housing agency. The owner declined at the time, but Gary indicated this is worth pursuing again.
6) What about addressing this as the emergency that it is and using designated emergency centres? Most Neighborhood PODs have a designated place to gather during emergencies called reception centres. Some participants wondered why these centres were not being considered as temporary accommodations during this emergency. Gary will pursue this suggestion.
7) What about petitioning BC Health to allow full-capacity occupation in the new Community Service’s shelter? We learned that the recently-acquired and renovated home next to Community Services is open and accommodating 16 residents.When we learned that its occupancy is actually 30 but limited during COVID times, a participant asked, could this limitation of capacity be waived in light of this emergency? What if some of the SeaBreeze residents were accommodated there temporarily as long as they followed designated protocols that could include full-vaccination/booster and routine COVID tests? Gary will explore but indicated that BC COVID health requirements were compelling and difficult to modify even in the face of this emergency.
Gary was asked whether imposing the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (SVT) could result in more rental spaces available. While not a panacea, Gary indicated there is evidence in other jurisdictions that the SVT has freed up some housing for rentals. The SVT would also dampen speculative pressure on housing prices.
While money collected is earmarked for affordable housing within the areas in which the SVT is applied, Gary believes that further negotiations could result in earmarking proceeds to individual communities in which the funds were raised. Even without this local funding stream, Gary believes that this SVT is worth pursuing.
Already underway in many BC communities and administered by the Province, Gary feels that SVT may be a simpler, less controversial, and less costly solution than CRD creating a local business license (The business license option has been requested by the Trust to help enforce the prohibition of non-owner occupied vacation rentals.) Despite an initial preference for an SVT over business licenses, Gary has asked CRD staff to provide a report on the merits of establishing business licenses on Salt Spring.
When the proposed Islands Trust legalization of accessory dwellings (including cottages, suites and accessory buildings such as above garages) throughout Salt Spring was mentioned as a housing solution, Gary indicated there are some negative environmental impacts that could result from adding to our already very dispersed, car dependent settlement patterns. The current Salt Spring Official Community Plan (OCP) and the recently completed Climate Action Plan 2.0 both strongly recommend densifying settlement patterns. A participant also mentioned that increasing densities and population in small lot neighborhoods could create negative septic system impacts on wells and our watershed.
To achieve this densification in Ganges, Gary suggested focusing on resolution of the North Salt Spring Waterworks District’s (NSSWD) moratorium on new water connections. We learned that NSSWD is currently reviewing the rationale for the moratorium, the results of which will hopefully be released soon. Gary will be bringing some suggestions to help address the NSSWD water supply problem to the Salt Spring Water Protection Alliance (SSIWPA), such as conservation measures and possible transfer of some water licenses (e.g., from the CRD Fernwood-Highland water district) to NSSWD.
When asked about the talks between NSSWD and CRD about a merger that would allow Salt Spring’s largest water district access to infrastructure grants, Gary told us that this door is almost closed. With the January 26, 2022 deadline for the recently-announced federal-provincial infrastructure grant program looming, CRD and the Province have once again requested NSSWD submit an application to the program. The Province has indicated that NSSWD would not be expected to convert to a CRD utility (necessary to be eligible for such grants) without the assurance of funding of their application. If NSSWD declines to submit an application, CRD will submit one on behalf of a CRD water district or districts.
When a participant asked whether SSI should establish a target number of affordable housing units, Gary answered that his target was as many as possible. He did point our total affordable housing stock is lower than many other jurisdictions.
With the need for affordable housing, a participant asked why the $100,000 just awarded to Transition Salt Spring (TSS) for watershed/forestry rehabilitation could not be better-used for housing. Gary replied that this TSS award was a federal grant designated for climate action. Refusing to pit climate action and affordable housing initiatives as either/or propositions, he, instead, reminded us of the billions being spent on affordable housing by federal/provincial governments as well as the millions being spent on Salt Spring alone.
Despite the billions of dollars now being spent on affordable housing, Gary reminded us of senior government housing budget cuts for several decades in the past - an unfortunate legacy that is now being reversed but will take many more years to successfully address.
After this weighty discussion of complex housing woes, it was refreshing when one participant shared his delight with PARC's new pathway from Bishops Walk/Salt Spring Commons to Drake Road. Gary reminded us that this project received an infrastructure grant of almost $100,000. Kudos were also given for the recent great housing articles in both the Driftwood and The Times Colonist.
As 1:00 approached, a participant asked about a Local Community Commission (LCC). What is it anyway? Why should we care?An LCC (maybe more-appropriately called something like a CRD Community Council) would be a CRD governance body comprised of four representatives who are elected at large with the Electoral Area Director.
Gary indicated that such a body would broaden representation, increase elected official capacity to deal with increasingly complex CRD responsibilities, and increase public discussion and transparency. For example, CRD budgets and allocation of gas tax and grant in aid funding would be discussed by the Director and the Council in public meetings. An elected LCC could also eventually result in efficiencies such as the consolidation of some of the many CRD committees and commissions. (Currently, each of these commissions and committees meet separately, supported by CRD local and Victoria staff.)
Given the millions of dollars of deferred maintenance on our roads plus very costly major emergency repairs, as well as costs of policing and the implications for the preserve and protect role of Islands Trust, Gary still supports the community's decision not to incorporate. But, in Gary’s opinion, an elected LCC working with the CRD Director would provide some of the advantages of incorporation without its liabilities.
Still committed to this key plank in his platform three years ago, Gary was clear that much due diligence is still needed before this LCC governance option is presented to the community for their vote. With the next local election, October 15, 2022 as a target, Salt Springers need to fully-understand this largely-unknown governance option. Stay tuned: You may soon be learning far more about the possibilities and limitations of an LCC. . . .
We all thanked Gary for coming to be with us each and every month, listening to us, helping us to understand complex issues, and working tirelessly to address our wide variety of Salt Spring CRD challenges. Thank-you, Gary!
It is holiday time!
Enjoy a time rich with family, friends, festivities. . .and food.
And, come back to the Library Program Room 11-1 January 7 to welcome MLA Adam Olsen and the start of a new year.
Capacity is limited to 25, and masks are required, removed only to
drink coffee or eat homemade chocolate chip cookies :)
What do you want to ask him?
What has been learned from our weather emergency?
Can you give us a preview of the 2022 Legislative session?
Do you think a review of the Islands Trust Act will be undertaken in the near future?
Any suggestions about addressing our road concerns from a totally new perspective?
What’s next for the Police Act Review Committee?
What’s happening in efforts to protect our old growth?
See you Friday, January 7, 11-1, in the Library Program Room to welcome Adam!
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring 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. . . .
Our rent - reduced through the generosity of our Library -
is being paid for byIsland Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.
Cookie and coffee fixings are the result of the generosity of Country Grocer.
What a team!)