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  • Gayle Baker

The One Year Anniversary of Salt Spring's Local Community Commission: A Focus on Housing

June 14

While the gathering welcoming Local Community Commissioners (LCC) Chair Earl Rook and Electoral Director Gary Holman was small, those who participated expressed their appreciation for our housing-focused conversation. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, facilitator Grant Fredrickson asked our guests what “Excited and Delighted” them. Earl began by expressing pleasure that the long, dark days of winter have been replaced by our spring/summer weather. He also spoke briefly of his appreciation for the community support for the LCC, approaching the one-year anniversary of the swearing in of Salt Spring’s first Local Community Commissioners on June 20, 2023:


Gary continued this theme of support for the LCC by noting that its one-year anniversary had even been mentioned by CRD Chair Board Colin Plant at its recent meeting. While the LCC was a community-driven initiative, Gary expressed his appreciation of Victoria CRD staff who not only did the work needed to make it happen but have also been continuously-supportive of its initiatives.


Although it took some months to accomplish, this included staff support to implement the strong desire of Local Commissioners to offer one monthly evening meeting. The recent evening meeting had both a minute taker as well as three senior CRD staff. (The LCC meets at 5:00 pm. for two-hours the second Thursday of every month in the SIMS Boardroom. It also meets at 9:00 am. the third Thursday of the month, also in the SIMS Boardroom. NOTE: The July meetings may be cancelled to allow for staff holidays.)


A participant characterizing himself as the “community busybody” asked what folks who come to LCC meetings were requesting. Gary spoke of a recent, extraordinary example of community support: At the LCC’s most recent meeting, several groups came, not asking for funding but asking to help the LCC accomplish important community goals! For example: 


  1. A group came with plans to renovate and expand the 20-year old Kanaka Bike Park on School District 64 property and managed by the CRD. Not requesting funding, they came to share their plans and ask for advice about how best to proceed.

  2. Also, Partners Creating Pathways, a committee of Islands Pathways, presented a proposal to design and build pathways, giving completed pathways to CRD for ownership and maintenance. Proposed as the way to save both money and staff time, the proposal was well-received by Local Commissioners as well as staff. As the next step, a staff report detailing specifics was requested unanimously by Local Commissioners.


Local Commissioners see an expansion of such partnerships with volunteers and nonprofit organizations (already in place for recycling, our library , the arts, and Search and Rescue) as important initiatives that will significantly increase the ability of the LCC to implement positive change.


A participant asked why it seemed so difficult to build what he saw as the solution: affordable apartment buildings in and around Ganges. In his opinion, the responsibility to provide adequate worker housing rests clearly with local government, the Islands Trust for land use decisions and the CRD’s LCC for needed infrastructure, some funding, and, possibly, a coordinating function to spearhead action.


We learned from Earl that this participant’s opinion that the Islands Trust and the LCC should work together is shared and that a meeting between Islands Trustees and Local Commissioners was held Monday, June 17, to explore enhanced communications, collaboration, and joint activities.

 

While Gary agrees that coordination is always helpful, he offered his opinion that the hurdle is neither land nor coordination but funding for site development and construction. He listed a number of properties already zoned (or designated) for affordable, rental housing, including:

  • CRD’s Drake Road property, with potential for an additional 50 densities beyond the long-awaited (and now finally underway) 32 units of supported housing in addition to four worker housing units,

  • Gulf Islands Senior Residence Association’s (GISRA) Kings Lane project,

  • Community Services’ Brinkworthy property,

  • Norton Road property,

  • Bracket Springs on Rainbow Road,

  • The underway renovation of Seabreeze Inne for health care workers,

  • The land of the former DragonFly Commons project on Drake Road,

  • And, the list goes on. (For more detail, please see https://saltspringexchange.com/2024/05/19/summary-of-current-housing-initiatives-on-salt-spring-island/).


Some of these projects, like Bracket Springs, need a proponent (ideally a nonprofit) to take the lead purchasing the property. At this point, only the Drake Road supported housing and the Seabreeze have the detailed designs completed. Others need funding for predevelopment funding (PDF) such as studies, surveys, infrastructure like water and sewage systems, and shovel-ready designs.


These detailed designs are prerequisites for application to the province, federal government, and CRD for construction funding. But, unfortunately, even when these expensive detailed designs are complete, Salt Spring projects must compete with urban applicants that can often promise larger scale projects with economies of scale.


While the affordable housing issue can be overwhelming, Gary reminded us of the potential of CRD’s newly-approved Rural Housing Program(https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/southern-gulf-islands-ea-pdf/ruralhousingprogrampilot2024.pdf?sfvrsn=c7fcafce_3).


For more information about the Rural housing Program, please see the CRD Board Consent Agenda of February 14, 2024: https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/crd-document-library/committeedocuments/capitalregionaldistrictboard/20240214/2024-02-14agendapkgrb.pdf?sfvrsn=1180d7ce_3.)


With $100,000 already secured by CRD from the Southern Gulf Islands Tourism Partnership (SGITP - https://southerngulfislands.com/about-us/) for a paid coordinator, work on the Rural Housing Program is beginning. While the focus in 2024 will be on planning and defining the program, in 2025 this CRD-led rural program could provide both pre-development funding for affordable housing projects as well as the possibility of incentives for rental units on Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands.


A participant added that he believed that there is another promising source of funding: the generosity of Salt Springers. While seeking regional, provincial, and federal funding is critical, he maintained that there are also locals who would be willing to donate to help provide housing for our essential workers. Unfortunately, in his opinion, there is not a single, well-managed fund to which they can donate. He suggested working with the Salt Spring Island Foundation (https://ssifoundation.ca/) to set up a well-advertised fund where generous folks could donate. 


Local Commissioners recently hosted a housing meeting to gather information and identify its role: (https://gulfislandsdriftwood.com/lcc-gathers-stakeholders-for-housing-session/). While Local Commissioners will soon have the conversation to identify next steps, Earl noted that, with a number of possible affordable housing projects, one important LCC role may be to create a tracker for all projects identifying progress and the challenges that must be addressed before proceeding. He believes that it is possible that identifying solutions for projects that are stymied may be a very valuable role for the LCC.


When asked if purchased or rental housing was the focus of LCC attention, both Earl and Gary agreed that affordable rental housing was most critical. We learned that the average Canadian rental costs more than $2,000 a month (https://rentals.ca/national-rent-report), an annual outlay that few of us in this ASK Salt Spring gathering could afford. But even more problematic is that adequate numbers of Salt Spring rentals are not available at any price. 


While ownership housing must be fully self-funded, often only possible at market prices, rental housing projects that offer at least some proportion of below market units (and, generally, a local resident requirement) are eligible for government funding. For example, Gary cited BC Builds (https://www.bcbuildshomes.ca/) as a promising new program with potential funding for local projects that have acquired property and completed detailed designs, as long as at least 20% of the units are offered at 20% below market rental rates.


When a participant asked if we have current data on our housing needs, Gary replied that CRD secured funding for a housing needs assessment several years ago that indicated that 300 units were needed immediately and that another 300 units would be needed over the next five years https://islandstrust.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2020-11-26-housing-needs-report-ssi-final.pdf) . With one needed again, he told us that Islands Trust has committed to take the lead on the next housing assessment.


Gary pointed out that only a portion of this identified housing need has been developed in recent years or is underway. But, these projects, Salt Spring Commons, Croftonbrook, Drake Road, and Seabreeze together account for about 130 units. While not enough, these 130 units also free up rental units, a seldom cited secondary benefit.


While affordable housing projects are critical, what about the innovative plan to use the housing already existing on Salt Spring? The LCC has recently approved funding for a “Made on Salt Spring” component of Housing Now’s (https://www.sgicommunityresources.ca/housing-now-home/) HomeSharing initiative, with core funding from SGITP.


So, what is HomeSharing? It is a living arrangement in which a home is shared in exchange for either money; support services like yard work, errands, or even care; or a combination of money and services. We learned that there are over 1,500 homes on Salt Spring occupied by a single resident. Determined to do better, our local Housing Now Coordinator, Max, is working hard to identify Salt Springers who could use some extra money or help and are willing to explore HomeSharing. Interested? Max will be our special ASK Salt Spring guest this Friday, June 21, 11-1, SIMS classroom. 


Co-Housing, prevalent all over the world, is also alive and well on Salt Spring. Unfortunately, while some amazing small cooperative housing communities exist all over our island, they are, in general, doing so with no fanfare, fearful that publicity of their success creating community will result in bylaw infractions and citations.


There was some discussion at this ASK Salt Spring gathering about the benefits of encouraging these creative housing options while also ensuring responsible water/sewage disposal and safe structures. It was suggested that systems and buildings should not be held to rigid codes but be assessed using the common sense needed to ensure basic safety and conscientious environmental practices. Can we further explore co-housing options like that proposed by the Wagon Wheel Society (https://dosomegood.ca/organization/wagon-wheel-housing-society-3173966) or rooming house options to find a legal path for innovative housing solutions?


When a participant asked about using Crown land for a homesteading-like project, Gary replied that most Salt Spring Crown land was in remote locations. He cited conclusions by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (https://www.vtpi.org/) that living near transport (active as well as vehicular) routes significantly increase affordability as well as positive environmental results. The participant suggesting use of Crown land cited success with this approach in other countries, agreeing that housing clusters on dedicated Crown land must be connected to transportation routes and that solid strategic planning for such growth is essential.


As our time together drew to a close, Gary reminded us that the housing crisis which local governments must help address was made much worse three decades ago when our federal and provincial governments retreated from building public housing. This unfortunate decision has created a huge hole that all governments across Canada are now struggling to fill. While we need our creative nonprofits and generous donors to help reduce our housing shortages, Gary maintains that it is our senior governments’ primary responsibility to address the far-reaching consequences of their past decisions by funding housing projects in both urban centres as well as rural communities like Salt Spring.


As 1:00 had arrived, we thanked our two Local Commissioners, appreciative of a great conversation, their hard work, and clear care for our community - adding congratulations for the one year anniversary of the launching of Salt Spring’s Local Community Commission. As one participant said: “I was skeptical, but I am very happy with your progress this first year!” (Thanks, Earl and Gary.)  


Please join us this Friday, June 21 11-1 in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome our new Salt Spring Housing Now Coordinator, Max Baron-Veale, to tell us about the benefits of HomeSharing.


What would you like ask him?

  • I do not know what HomeSharing entails. Please tell me more.

  • What are you doing to identify homeowners willing to share?

  • Do HomeSharers fall under the BC Tenancy Act?

  • What success have you had on Salt Spring? What challenges have you encountered?

  • How many HomeSharing relationships do you think can be created by the end of 2025?

  • And?

Please join us to welcome Max!


Just in case you are interested. . . .This report has been written by Gayle Baker, Ph. D., founder of ASK Salt Spring. While currently also a Salt Spring Local Community Commissioner, at this gathering, she served only as the notetaker and report writer, not participating in the discussion. This report has also been edited by this week’s special guests, Earl and Gary.


Want to help? We welcome volunteers to join the team.

Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

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: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings, and

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!


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