Worried About our Lack of Worker Housing? Come on, Salt Spring - Become a HomeSharer!
We welcomed Janey Rowland, coordinator of our new Housing NOW HomeShare Registry Program, to this ASK Salt Spring gathering. We began by being intrigued and charmed by the scattering of Michif phrases in her Territorial Acknowledgement, soon learning that she is of Metis ancestry and reconnecting to her heritage through language.
During our time together, we learned a great deal about the Housing NOW Project and the HomeShare initiative Janey is coordinating. While growing rapidly, HomeSharing (https://www.canadahomeshare.com/) is not a new concept. We learned that New Zealand is working to include HomeShare as a federally-funded initiative (https://www.ageconcernauckland.org.nz/media/website_pages/resources/Life-changing-housing-programme-brings-young-and-old-together-(1).pdf). And, that some years ago, Canada had its own federally-funded program, Match and Share.
With a proven track record of matching those willing to offer a room in their homes to those wanting to rent (and, in some cases, perform tasks in lieu of a portion of the rent), new HomeShare programs are emerging, an important part of the solution to our nationwide housing crisis. While largely in urban areas in the past, these programs are now also being successfully established in rural areas.
So, how did Salt Spring get its new HomeShare Program? In 2022, as a result of a proposal from the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resource Centre, funding was granted by the Southern Gulf Island Community Economic Sustainability Commission and the Capital Regional District to conduct a housing need survey, collecting the metrics quantifying the housing needs and resources of the Islands of Galiano, Mayne, Pender, and Saturna. Needless to say, a pressing need for affordable housing was quantified for all participating islands.
The first Project initiative arising from the responses of those surveyed was the creation of the Housing NOW HomeShare Registry, designed for our Gulf Islands. In the spring of 2023, with additional funding from the Southern Gulf Islands Tourism Partnership, a regional initiative funded by a 2% accommodations tax generated on Pender, Mayne, Galliano, Saturna, and Salt Spring, ((https://southerngulfislands.com/about-us/), the HomeShare Registry was introduced in all five Island communities. Next, a Toolkit (soon to be released) was created, detailing what HomeSharers need to know - and agree to - before entering into any shared housing arrangement.
With both its larger demographic and a more complex array of community groups than the other smaller islands, it has taken several months longer to extend the full function of this program to Salt Spring. But now it has arrived - with its enthusiastic coordinator, Janey, and its just-hired local coordinator, Ben Corno.
Believed to be a perfect solution to some of our housing woes, this new program matches available space in homes with those needing housing. It offers a number of strengths, including:
Minimal environmental impacts. . . as it uses currently-existing space rather than requiring new buildings.
Senior Support. . . . as it can offer additional services for seniors desiring to age in place.
An opportunity for philanthropy . . .While many Salt Springers worry about the unavailability of worker housing, they often do not know how to help. By sharing a bedroom in their home, they instantly become part of the solution.
One of the first questions for Janey was: Is this legal? Yes. . . as long as the kitchen is shared, this housing arrangement does not break any Islands Trust zoning bylaws. As long as it is a safe space that adheres to building codes, it does not break CRD bylaws.
So, how does it work? Our HomeShare Program is a bit like that of a matchmaker service, collecting registrant data, introducing potential HomeSharers, guiding the creation of agreements acceptable for both parties, and providing a range of additional supports.
While the BC Tenancy Act (https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/02078_01) remains in force, our HomeShare Program has a number of resources in place to make it far less likely to need to pursue BC Tenancy arbitration including:
A careful matching of the needs of both HomeSharers before introductions are even made.
Assisting in face-to-face meetings between HomeSharers for extra clarity about expectations and requirements.
Guidance in document creation indicating adherence to agreements.
In cases in which tasks are arranged in lieu of some rent, clear understanding and sign-off by both parties.
Regular contact with HomeSharers to make sure things are going well and offer potential solutions in addressing any concerns before they arise.
Creating opportunities for HomeSharers to meet with trained facilitators to seek solutions in instances in which further help is needed to resolve issues.
So, how does it work? While there will be face-to-face gatherings in the very near future, the very first step will be to sign up at the Registry: (https://www.sgicommunityresources.ca/housing-registry/). Has anyone from Salt Spring registered? Yes. . . HomeSeeker numbers are rising with new registrants signing up weekly.
The challenge, of course, is getting Salt Spring homeowners to step up to address our housing challenge by offering to share their homes. Much of our conversation focused upon how to get local homeowners on board. Some suggestions included:
Homeowners may be more willing to share their homes if employers would recommend their employees, back them if problems arise, and possibly even guarantee the rent.
What about getting support from our larger employers? While Country Grocer and Lady Minto are taking a lead with their own worker housing initiatives, what about funding from other big businesses, like BC Ferries, that also need housing for their workers?
What about reaching out to senior social societies (like the Senior Centre) to offer this aging in place option to those with too-large homes?
What about our agricultural community? Many farms have extra bedrooms and most also have at least a seasonal need for help.
What about publicity? Although the Driftwood and Exchange are key players in passing the word, what other ways could be utilized to let Salt Springers know about this opportunity?
What about putting some money on the table to make it easier for HomeSharers? The CRD Rural Economic Housing Strategy, spearheaded by Southern Gulf Islands Regional District (https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/crd-document-library/plans-reports/housing/southern-gulf-islands-housing-strategy.pdf?sfvrsn=630dc3cd_2), has offered many recommendations to be discussed by the CRD Board this fall. Among them may be the option of funding renovations to encourage homeowners to rent. Could these funding recipients be required to HomeShare?
As 1:00 approached, Janey told us that, while there are many successful models of HomeShare Programs to use as guides, she is committed to designing a program that meets the unique needs of Salt Spring. So, Salt Spring, connect with Janey (J Rowland <email@example.com>) and Ben (Ben Corno <firstname.lastname@example.org>) to ask your questions, make suggestions, and even sign up!
We all left well informed and quite excited about this Made in Salt Spring solution to a portion of our worker housing crisis. (Thanks, Janey and Ben, for spearheading this promising initiative!)
Remember our Climate Action Plan 2.0 (https://transitionsaltspring.com/responding-to-climate-change/) with its over 250 recommendations? Are you curious about how well we are doing addressing these recommendations?
Join us this Friday, September 29, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) Lobby to get the just-released Climate Action Report Card and discuss its implications with Transition Salt Spring’s Chair, Bryan Young and his team.
What you you like to ask them?
Overall, how are we doing addressing our climate challenges?
What was your biggest surprise with this report of our progress?
Can you identify sectors that are lagging and help us to understand why?
What lessons have we learned from sectors that are making amazing progress?
Now that you have this Report Card, what are your top action priorities for 2024-25?
And. . . .
Please join us this Friday to welcome Bryan and his team!
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