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  • Gayle Baker

Workforce Housing. . . Can we "Work as One to Get it Done?"

April 28

After ourTerritorial Acknowledgement, we dove into a rich conversation about Workforce Housing, with no single special guest but all 18 of us offering differing levels of expertise, passion, and creative thinking. It was a rich conversation!


We began by agreeing not to discuss Islands Trust bylaws and initiatives as Trustee Laura Patrick was disappointed not to be able to join us. While we also spoke with appreciation about the recently-released Salt Spring Solutions’ housing study, we also agreed to postpone a more detailed discussion until the ASK Salt Spring gathering May 26, 11-1, when Salt Spring Solutions Directors will join us as our special guests. To read the report, see:(https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5af718fb8ab722c6b4a05028/t/643dd94215bcc61d7a64c458/1681774936764/Homes+for+Islanders.pdf)..


There appeared to be agreement that the strongest communities offer multiple levels of housing, pathways to success, that that allow progressive movement up the housing ladder that could include shelter-level housing, recreational vehicles, tiny homes, town houses, small stand-alone homes, and, eventually, market-priced purchased housing. And, that Salt Spring simply does not offer this housing pathway.


Funding is part of the issue: Much of the available funding is focused on housing for those qualifying for subsidized rates. Rental housing for those earning moderate salaries is largely ignored by provincial and federal funding sources. And, funding sources for purchased housing are even rarer, dependent largely upon private developers.


What about other ways to enhance rental opportunities. Campgrounds were mentioned as they are favorable activities in the Official Community Plan, OCP, but still needing approval: (https://islandstrust.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/SS-BL-434_2020-10_OCP_Vol1-2.pdf). Campgrounds are also allowed as a right, not dependent upon approval, on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) properties. Unfortunately, these campgrounds are defined as temporary, transit housing, limited to 30 days or less and allowing 10 or fewer recreational vehicles.


Another participant expressed his appreciation for the illegal communities that are popping up on large residential lots. In this participant’s opinion, they are wonderful cooperative communities that offer that perfect example of Salt Spring’s long gone alternate living arrangements so prevalent in the 1960s. But, is this illegal status good for this community’s residents? What happens if neighbors have legitimate complaints about this illegal land use? Idyllic in some senses, these creative communities clearly bring their own complexities.


We learned that the Southern Gulf Islands were awarded a grant to offer a Housing Now project matching potential landlords to businesses with employees needing housing. All the other Gulf Islands have this program up and running, not Salt Spring. Why, you may wonder? Those reaching out to offer this program on Salt Spring soon realized that, while there were a multitude of organizations addressing housing, they simply could not find an organizations willing to take the lead. Happily, if all goes as expected, this Housing Now program will be soon moving into the Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce offices. (Thanks, Chamber!) Even though, after some fits and starts, it looks like Salt Spring will get the benefits of this program, it clearly illustrates the need for a single entity working with all partners to address the wide spectrum of our housing issues.


In a participant’s opinion, a very important - and easy - initiative would be to make sure that those considering buying a home have accurate information about home ownership as well as rental on Salt Spring. Also, in this participants’ opinion, lending institutions are now putting more effort in exploring co-ownership options. . .another essential piece of information for some potential homeowners. A simple collaboration between our real estate and banking professionals, this seemed like an option that should be further explored.


A participant offered the example of Whistler which, decades ago, recognized workforce accommodation challenges and addressed them. Over three decades, Whistler estimated that it needed 6,500 worker accommodations. Different from Salt Spring, Whistler attracted and welcomed developers, requiring them to add workforce accommodations to every project, eventually acquiring their needed worker housing.


We learned that there are 6,340 employed on Salt Spring. With our estimated population of 11,800, this leaves retirees and children - and those who are unemployed - at about 5,500. This participant calculated that this indicates that we need approximately 3,000 homes to accommodate our workforce.


While some would immediately look to the suites on properties to address this rental need, this participant also told us that rentals on the properties currently being sold are disappearing: Those buying homes are simply not interested in being landlords. According to this participant, with the cheapest home on Salt Spring priced at $600,000, the average home here is selling at $1.3 million. When rentable suites are pointed out to these buyers, most are simply not interested in renting. These new, more affluent, buyers have enough money, and most do not want the extra responsibility of being a landlord.

The logical leap made by this participant is that Salt Spring needs a developer to build housing and that, as high construction costs are fixed, the only path is to increase the density on properties to make them better investments. While not supported by all, the logic rang true to some.


A participant spoke with enthusiasm about the Housing Acceleration Fund (https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/professionals/project-funding-and-mortgage-financing/funding-programs/all-funding-programs/housing-accelerator-fund), a new multi-billion (now until 2027) federal finding source for housing projects. This opportunity generated many questions as well as enthusiasm - with some offering their help get this application out the door.


It was noted that there are a number of housing projects either underway or pending, including:

  • Drake Road, five acres donated by School District 64 some years ago, and to be leased to BC Housing for 60 years. The site of the 28-units of supportive housing, there can also be an additional 50-80 densities on the rest of the property if sufficient water can be proven, to be determined by well drilling and testing later this year.

  • Meadowlane on a Kings Lane property owned by Gulf Islands Seniors Residents Association (GISRA), currently challenged by funding but infused with new energy at the management and Board levels.

  • Bracket Springs, the former Land Bank property on Rainbow Road, offering 11 densities is being reconsidered by some nonprofit societies. Despite serious challenges, including approximately $300,000 required to clear the debris, its placement in a riparian area, and water and septic challenges, it is in receivership and Vancity would prefer it be acquired by a nonprofit rather than a developer. Estimated to be available for about $450,000, it remains an interesting, centrally-located possibility.

  • Dean Road, a home currently being renovated by Lookout Society, a bright new light in terms of our local housing nonprofits (https://lookoutsociety.ca/), with up to a dozen boarding house units.

  • Seabreeze Inne, owned by Lade Minto Foundation, and, while currently delayed due to tenant negotiations heading for the Supreme Court in September, it will eventually provide up to 18 units of invaluable healthcare worker housing.

  • Dragonfly Commons (https://dragonflycommons.com/), with CRD agreeing to consider becoming the water utility operator for this strata development, could be building 30 workforce homes for purchase very soon.

Would it make sense to use CRD funding to provide a focused housing service? While the details could be debated - would it be a CRD-managed program or CRD support for a nonprofit to take the lead - a number at this gathering believed that this is an idea worthy of further exploration. While the Housing Council brings together all those in our community who have the knowledge, expertise, and commitment to steward our housing projects, these individuals are working full tilt on their own projects. Any additional initiatives are beyond their already overloaded schedules. Members of the Housing Council simply do not have the time to pursue other housing opportunities.


Would a CRD-funded staff position help? The yet-to-be-explored question, likely to be further discussed at ASK Salt Spring May 26, 11-1, is: What needs would be addressed by this proposed position? Before proceeding, specific performance objectives for this funding would be required. Stay tuned. . . .


Orcas Island’s Opal Community Land Trust: (https://www.opalclt.org/) and Cowichan Valley (https://www.cvrd.ca/1530/Cowichan-Housing) seem to have figured it out. We can as well, yes?


As 1:00 had arrived, our oldest participant, at 89, issued a challenge to us all: I want at least 500 more living spaces in the next three years. Can we meet that challenge? On that note, we packed up our chairs, savouring the rich conversation, made richer by each participant. (Good job, us!)

Please join us this Friday, May 5, 11-1 in the Lobby of SIMS, Saltspring Island Multi-Space (the former Middle School) to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.

What would you like to ask him?

  • We love that you recently invited Minister Farnworth to join you at ASK Salt Spring. Can you tell us about the positive outcomes of this visit?

  • As Minister Rob Fleming is coming June 2, who else will you entice to join us?

  • What is the progress with the Police Act Review?

  • What are your thoughts about Premier Eby’s housing announcements, including legalizing all secondary suites in BC?

  • What are you priority issues for the rest of 2023?

  • And?


Please join us Friday, May 5, 11-1, to welcome Adam!


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 question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com

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!



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