If elected CRD Director on October 20, my top priority will be to help address the crisis in affordable housing on Salt Spring.
As CRD Director (2002─2008), I opted SSI into the CRD Housing Trust Fund that has helped create hundreds of units of affordable housing within the Capital region, and once the Croftonbrook project is completed, about 90 units here. SSI has received grants that are many times our contributions to this regional fund. As former President of the SSI Abbeyfield Society, I also worked with Island Women Against Violence to help establish the Cedars transition housing for women.
My main focus will be the seven affordable housing projects already underway, all with land secured, including Croftonbrook (with $6.5 million in committed funding); Dragonfly, Community Services’ SSI Commons and the CRD itself (all in the Drake Road area); Norton Road; Meadow Lane seniors housing; and Brackett Springs. These projects, representing over 250 units, address a range of affordable housing needs on SSI. Protected by housing agreements, they will add to a permanent stock of affordable housing disconnected from market forces and free up private rental housing.
Brackett Springs and SSI Commons already have Trust approval and servicing issues resolved. However, the other five projects, all affected by the North SSI Water District’s moratorium on new water connections, must develop alternative supplies (e.g., drilled wells and rainwater catchment), and aggressive conservation measures (e.g., recycled grey water for flushing toilets). CRD’s role is to help secure senior government funding and provide supporting services. For example, the Dragonfly and CRD projects on Drake Road could possibly integrate their proposed groundwater systems into a joint CRD utility. The upgrading of the CRD Ganges wastewater treatment plant should provide sufficient capacity for projects within its service area. The CRD Transportation Commission, which I established in 2007, could help with road and pathway upgrades by working with MOTI and Island Pathways.
The Islands Trust recently legalized 1500 suites and is now considering legalizing year-round use for a further 450 seasonal cottages. The uptake of these provisions by landowners may be limited. The appreciation in market value of these properties and diversion to short term vacation rentals (STVRs) may negate affordability benefits. The CRD could help with some of these concerns, for example by facilitating monitoring of housing agreements and proactive enforcement of illegal STVRs that reduce our permanent housing stock and exacerbate speculative market forces.
The proposed introduction of the Municipal Regional District Tax (MRDT) on SSI, championed by SSI’s Economic Development Commission, offers another possible funding source for affordable workforce housing. The CRD should increase support for the SSI Housing Council, which could provide this coordinating function, monitor housing agreements, manage wait lists and eventually initiate projects.
Given SSI’s affordability crisis, the priority for bylaw enforcement, unless there are imminent safety and health hazards, should not be non-conforming rental situations. Instead, the CRD and Islands Trust should work with landowners to explore the innovative provisions of our Official Community Plan (OCP) that could actually reduce the impact of development allowed under existing zoning.
Other measures can be considered, like increasing the CRD Housing Trust Fund levy (now only 50 cents/household/mo) and examining the merits of the Province’s proposed speculation tax. In the next four years, working together, we can significantly reduce our affordable housing problem, for the benefit of us all.
Written by Gary Holman, Candidate for CRD Director