Housing Thoughts

  1. We’ve known about and studied the affordable housing shortfall for at least 13 years and have made no headway, and perhaps gone backwards.
  2. As a response we now have an anarchic, subversive culture that thumbs their nose at regulations that don’t represent the will and needs of the population. Non-compliance has become the norm, and it is broadly believed that it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
  3. We have a complaint driven, not vision driven policy paradigm
  4. Rhonan Heitzmann spoke about how we used to be a beacon for housing solutions. For example, rammed earth in Canada began on SSI.  Straw bale building in the early days was centered on SSI.  SSI milled its own timber, quarried its own building stone, used island sand and gravel for its concrete, and had the skilled tradesman to create remarkable projects.  SSI is no longer the beacon for permitted home building solutions for the rest of the country or the world.

So, what would it take to become a beacon?  Let’s begin by looking at what other people around the world are doing.  To be a beacon, we would need to do these things, and more.

  1. A Living Building Challenge project on Bainbridge Island required that the homeowner take care of their own human waste. The owner petitioned for and bylaws were created to allow composting toilets.
  2. Protectionist measures (such as local businesses get a 20% advantage in bidding) are routinely used around the world to ensure that local designers, local builders, and local materials are used to express local culture (as expressed in our OCP).
  3. After presenting the case to the Qualicum City Council, they voted to cut permit fees in half for a SIREWALL residential project. Other municipalities jump green projects to the front of the permit queue and provide a single point advisor.  Seattle grants 25-30% increase in allowable floor area to Living Building Challenge projects.  Allowable heights also increase.
  4. In Lithuania, the building inspector is far less intrusive. He wants to make sure the building is durable, fire-proof, has a good roof, very high insulation levels, and an HRV.  Basically, he has no input after lockup (which is typically 50% of the cost of a house).  People buy such unfinished houses and move in, slowly putting in interior walls, kitchens, floors, plumbing, wiring, etc.  This is a huge financial advantage for people starting out.
  5. In China, rammed earth is not permitted. There is an alternative approval process however, that allows the local gov’t official to approve despite non-compliance.  On SSI we used to have a Senior Building Inspector, who had authority near to that, and we no longer have that.  When it comes to buildings we are governed from Saanich, where there is little appreciation for our local building culture.  We need to once again have a Senior Building Inspector for SSI if we are to implement the mandate of our OCP.
  6. For the SIREWALL community center project in NZ which is currently under construction, approval was contingent upon showing reconciliation with Maoris, training opportunities for youth, a high environmental standard that the community (of all ages) needed to be behind, that it would elevate the well-being of the community, and encourage the right kind of tourism. Those are far more inspiring metrics than cost per square foot.
  7. We have worked in communities where Passive House, LEED Silver, or LEED Gold are the minimum environmental building standard. If SSI wants to be a beacon, we should be first to adopt the most rigorous of all, the Living Building Challenge as our minimum standard.  The LBC requires that the building is net positive in terms of water, energy, sewage and liquid waste, contains no red-listed toxic materials, expresses beauty in terms of spirit, inspiration, and education, creates health and happiness through such things as biophilia, no use of toxic red-listed materials, and many more excellent inspiring measures.  Certainly, this does add to the cost but if required only of larger houses (perhaps over 2,000 sq ft) then the water, energy, and waste costs are no longer borne by the community and water gets freed up for those not able to afford large homes.
  8. Vancouver has a 100 year plan. SSI has a 5 year plan.  We need a 200 yr (7 generation) plan.  Without a destination we continue to fumble along.  Inside a 7G plan, we can begin to see how we need to integrate the different silos and so we have something against which we measure progress.  Scrambling between climate emergency, housing emergency, logging emergency, etc is not the practice of getting somewhere great.  If we have distinguished the greatest SSI we can imagine in a 7G plan, then we can make prioritized decisions in a measured and rational manner.  React, or create.  That is the essence.

We are in a time when the scale of the emergencies we face need to be addressed with solutions of a corresponding scale.  These emergencies also have urgency.  Our extremely slow and studied to death, decision making process is not designed for this.  Even if our CRD/Islands Trust/NSSWW/Fire Dept, etc silos were working at optimum efficiency, we can’t getter done.  Not even close.

We have a fractured governance, that I understood would be capable of functioning with all the capabilities of a municipality.  I believe that there is much that can be done to solve the emergencies we face, such as described in the list above, but without governance that can act with pace, boldness, courage and the power to implement, we are wasting our time.  The context is decisive, and that’s where we need to put our attention.  Asking our silo people to solve any emergency without adequate tools, is a fool’s errand.  I end with a question:  How do we create a system for SSI whereby we can govern ourselves with pace, boldness, courage, and the power to implement?


Meror Krayenhoff is now a global rammed earth consultant, working with the biggest and best architects in dozens of countries.  Prior to that he designed and built homes on SSI, receiving 3 Best Home Builder in BC awards from the Canadian Home Builders Assoc. and was featured on the Nature of Things with David Suzuki.

December 6, 2019 12:17 PM

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