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Incorporation: Affordable Housing

    Editorial & Opinions, Governance & Politics    July 31, 2017

It’s not easy to find a place to live on Salt Spring. Like everywhere in Southern BC, housing on Salt Spring, whether for rent or for purchase, is expensive and in short supply, especially for average wage earners. There’s some talk that this situation would improve under incorporation, but the evidence suggests otherwise. More high-end development—a likely result of incorporation—will make the Salt Spring housing situation worse, not better.

Purpose-built affordable housing is one solution. Salt Spring affordable housing consultant Janis Gauthier says that incorporation would not affect funding for affordable housing because Salt Spring housing providers already receive grants from federal, provincial and regional agencies. An example is the $4.5 million recently announced by the province to add units at Croftonbrook.

Salt Spring already has several successful affordable housing projects: Pioneer Village, Croftonbrook, Meadowbrook, Dean Road, Murakami Gardens, Grandma’s House, the Cedars, and at least five projects in process, including three in the Drake Road area—Salt Spring Commons, Dragonfly Commons, and the School District property— plus the Croftonbrook expansion, and Brackett Spring on Rainbow Road.

Non-profit housing on Salt Spring is typically funded by the CRD, BC Housing and CMHC and delivered through non-profit societies.

While the NSSWD moratorium on new water connections has delayed at least one of these projects, this is not necessarily something incorporation could change. A municipality (which would now have responsibility for the water districts and commissions) could lift the moratorium only if the increased draw would not cause Salt Spring to exceed the provisions of its current provincial water licenses. Required referrals to outside agencies would still limit what the municipality could do, even if aspects of the regulatory approvals process were streamlined. Vancouver Island developers also complain that their local municipalities can take two to five years to approve new projects. Those constraints wouldn’t go away simply because we’d incorporated, and for good reason: We all need water. It is to our benefit to have these constraints if the rationing we’ve experienced in past summers isn’t to become even more severe.

Another solution to the housing shortage is for local governments—including the Islands Trust—to partner with developers and require a percentage of units in a new development to be affordable. The strategy can be successful, but only with the cooperation of the developer. Incorporation would not change that equation.

In fact the quickest and least expensive way to create more affordable housing is something we can easily do under our current governance, and that is to encourage island homeowners to provide long-term rental units. So far, few homeowners have so far have taken advantage of this, but the Islands Trust has legalized secondary suites in many parts of SSI and could easily expand the area. However, for this to work, there must be adequate bylaw enforcement of illegal short-term vacation rentals (STVRs). Otherwise, too many homes and rental suites will be used for vacation rentals during the summer months. (This also fuels the housing-as-investment market and raises house prices even further.) As former Islands Trust CAO Linda Adams points out, “Rigorous enforcement of our existing no-STVR bylaw has been done by LTCs in previous terms and has had a positive effect on the availability of rental units.” Incorporation would not change this.

Push-back from STVR owners and from those who gain financially from the “hot” real estate market that incorporation is likely to fuel needs to be countered by islanders who understand that a stable, sustainable community depends upon adequate and affordable housing. Political will, not form of governance, is the issue.

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