The Gentrification Question

As trustees prioritize affordable housing and call for volunteers to take part in a task force, have they forgotten they are up against market forces, the constraints of the Islands Trust Act and a never-ending press of humanity?

It is important to note the current housing initiative is not just about securing accommodation for local workers. Housing advocates and Trustee Laura Patrick, in particular, are aiming for sweeping changes they believe will provide more “attractive and affordable housing” for the general population.

In a recent article, Laura wrote: “We know that: Rental supply is dire, the cost of housing on the island is simply beyond the reach of a majority of islanders, that seniors and young families are particularly vulnerable to housing stress, and that too many people are reduced to living in travel trailers, accessory buildings and boats. The solution, of course, is to build a greater variety of homes, more affordable homes and with affordable, realistic rents.”

While I share Laura’s antipathy to gentrification and concern about housing, I also realize that, regardless of what the Trust may attempt, there is no bucking the price of real estate short of flooding the market with new densities which would be a gross violation of our Official Community Plan and the Trust mandate.

Last year, the average single-family detached home on Salt Spring sold for about $800,000 while the mean sale price of bare land was about $350,000. And then there’s the high cost of construction. The bottom line is that you need money to live comfortably on Salt Spring, and the situation can only get worse as more people with deep pockets buy up local real estate, sometimes sight unseen, for primary or secondary residences and investment purposes.

At these prices, there is no way property owners are going to spend a fortune building new, up-to-code accommodation, only to rent it out long term for the bottom dollar, by signing a housing agreement, for example. They will want a return on their investment, and that will likely lead to more B&Bs and illegal STVRs rather than year-round rentals.

Even if trustees waved a magic wand to create a few hundred new affordable units for some of the people currently living in substandard (and often illegal) dwellings, do they honestly believe those poorly constructed, unsafe dwellings will not be rented out again as soon as they are vacated? We have become a regional overflow destination for people seeking low-cost housing.

Pender Island Trustee Steve Wright explained much of this in a December 2020 letter to Trust Council. He offered some practical steps to improve the situation, but warned about major changes to land use policies: “For trustees to become more involved in this issue is in my opinion, driven by our emotional response to it. It would be a mistake, if not Ultra Vires the Trust Act, if we make any decisions based on the need for affordable housing over and above our primary concern for the protection of the environment. Even to give the public the impression that we can do something to create housing is a mistake, if not a disservice. We cannot hold land. We do not have the funding. We do not have the authority.”

The Trust should maximize the use of existing housing stock, with special attention to local employees, but abandon grandiose ideas of intervening in the marketplace to bring social justice to all. We cannot build our way out of this conundrum without destroying that which is supposed to be protected.

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February 22, 2021 8:55 AM

Community Comments

  • Grandiose? Why that would be Mr. A's attitude most definitely.

    The Trust CAN and DOES hold land. The ITC has one affordable housing situation on SSI which they use for Staff housing, so it stands to reason they have the authority which they use unfairly and unjustly to their own benefit. 🙁

    How would the trust ensure existing rental stock goes to employees? How completely foolish.

    The sky is definitely falling for poor MR. A....in his mind if we build a few affordable housing projects we will have failed...we will attract more "poor" people.

    Why on earth does the exchange and the DW give this pompous fellow "news" status?

  • Avatar Eric Booth says:

    Mr. Attorp should perhaps spend an hour or two and visit the Whistler Housing Authority website where he may learn "how" an employee housing crisis can be dealt with via housing covenants restricting sale prices and rents to CPI increases.

    For someone who has spent so much time and energy sharing his opinions on housing, he falls short of researching the solutions which other communities have already utilized.

    https://whistlerhousing.ca/

  • Avatar citizenfirst says:

    I think calling it Gentrification is flawed.Many are migrating from cities for lifestyle changes.Some are tired of extreme weather.Others can work remotely.Some are creatives-moving to an established arts community with long standing tourist economy.Some are those who have rented and have decided to purchase. Housing prices have increased in many areas on coast: Nanaimo, Courtney as people fled Vancouver. And, in terms of summer houses-the island has been a retreat for many for at least a century if not longer.

  • Avatar Brenda Guiled says:

    Something to factor into housing solutions is couples going their separate ways. For example, three family households in my neighbourhood have split up, with a sudden need for three more living units. At the best of times, there's barely a spare cabin.

    This isn't a comment about separation and divorce, which are fundamental rights. It's about coming up with smart ways to create flexible housing that accounts for the coalescing and fracturing of households. This happens in predictable patterns, although the timing of individual family split-ups is unpredictable.

    In Europe, apparently, the one family home is kept for the kids, while the parents each rent a room in a house or apartment to stay in for their separate days and weeks, thus eliminating the need for two complete households with the kids shuffling between.

    Do the affordable housing units being planned for Salt Spring include ways of solving this difficulty?

  • Avatar Andrea Palframan says:

    Building up density in the village core is one answer: and one the Trust is looking at. Well-designed townhome and low-rise apartments are standard in communities of our size, and would make our downtown more vibrant and family friendly. As an owner of a multi-unit investment property that provides homes for 12 people, I promise there would be a line up of builders/buyers for such developments if the zoning were allowable. To give just one example, employers could invest to secure stable housing for their own workers. Another bonus of increasing density in town? The opportunity to keep forest standing instead of carving out yet more lots for our shrinking paradise.

  • Avatar rhonanmann says:

    Since the 90 s the population of over 60 has increased in exact proportion to total population growth....meanwhile the under 40 group has declined. It is now unaffordable for anyone earning under $135000 to own a home. Answer this. Who will serve our aging and wealthy community if there is no where to live? Is this a healthy sustainable community?
    The current Islands trust planning model is based on single family detached dwellings of virtually unlimited size on large lots. This model enshrines the right of the wealthy to have their country estate....or planned gentrification.

  • Avatar rhonanmann says:

    There are many options available to the Islands Trust to modify zoning to make it easier to share land...build smaller with less impact on the environment....smaller clustered dwellings uses less resources per person and allows for protecting larger spaces of the environment for ever....we can have the population needed to sustain a healthy balanced community in harmony with nature...we just need to be creative and flexible with our thinking....and it is not new....there are examples of this all over the world. Why is our "enlightened and progressive community such a lagard? Enshrining gentrification and rural sprawl into our development model under the auspices of protecting the environment by limiting population?
    Don't get me wrong I am not advocating for unlimited population! Rather a balanced, healthy demographic that collectively lives with less impact than the current out dated model.
    Find out more here!
    https://www.saltspringsolutions.com/housing

  • Avatar Colin Coe says:

    What an arrogant and elitist comment you make. This is a posting under "opinions " and this person is entitled to state his opinion - a perspective and a concern that many share. The proposed weakening of the Trust mandate to protect and preserve our natural resources to accommodate housing that is deemed affordable is a valid concern. Funding is an issue if indeed the Trust is to act as a land bank and facilitate development this will be costly. You mention that the plan is only to develop "a few affordable housing units " - do you have insight into how many. Is this 5? 50? 500? Over what time frame?
    We have seen a great influx of recent and aspirational residents who want to escape the cost and congestion of urban centres. Yet affordable housing is always justified on the basis of providing accommodation to employees of businesses and health care workers. Yet you state that his question as to how we can limit housing to employees is "foolish " . Why is it foolish.
    You sneeringly dismiss his concern about how providing affordable and perhaps subsidized housing will "attract poor people". He never said that, but if we provide what will be the lowest cost housing in the region we will obviously attract new residents to an island that has few jobs, limited land, limited water and limited infrastructure. Concerns over what is the sustainable level of growth on the island is not "pompous, " as you sneer but rather a valid concern over how this island can manage growth. No one wants to see Salt Spring turn into Langford where housing and growth over rides all other factors.

  • Avatar Colin Coe says:

    A carefully managed development of the Ganges core that also takes into account the ability of the island's ability to provide adequate services and infrastructure makes sense. Particularly if priority could be given to essential services employees for some of the units. We don't want to simply become a destination for urban escapees with endless development in order to meet an unlimited demand. And let's face it - Ganges has gone downhill in recent years. When was the last class A development - 30 years ago with Grace Point Square or the Mouat Oystercatcher building. Businesses seem to simply close or disappear in the middle of the night. It is far from vibrant other than in peak tourist season. Ganges has become rundown and shabby. So your solution is worth considering.

  • Avatar Mad Dog says:

    A well written, courageous article that broaches subjects that hit a nerve. The root of all the worlds major problems is overpopulation but, that's a daunting one to tackle, leaving us to play wack-a-mole with the direct causes such as income distribution, housing, etc.
    I also don't believe this is strictly a gentrification issue. I have found that the growing number of people moving here is trending towards younger, well educated families not just the wealthy. Part of the upward pressure on house prices is the easy availability of of credit allowing many to leverage their money.
    On the rental side, I have had several disturbing conversations with people who had horror stories renting suites. How many landlords have not been able to collect rent this past year due to Covid? It's no wonder many suites have been taken off the market.
    Also disturbing is the growing number of people demanding residency here as if it's a right. One does not have the right to live anywhere. One has the right to live anywhere they can reasonably afford.

  • Colin...this pompous opinion belongs in the discussions and opinions section. It was posted as news and Mr. A gets his fair share of time with his letters to the editor of Victoria Times and DW. I say asking the trust to ensure housing is for employees is foolish....they cannot dictate who gets housing unless it is subsidized government housing (not under trust authority) which Mr. A is so against. Housing is not about water issues or limited infrastructure it is about governance. Every community deserves to have access to housing. We can get insight into how much housing is required from all of our taxpayer funded endless studies and we can look to our current ocp and see the capacity we have all decided we can handle. 17000 is the magic extrapolated number, because our island is already zoned. We are talking about a few properties being used to create affordable housing...but chicken little here claims the sky is falling if we even attempt to discuss the issues. He is simply moaning about a group advocating to the trust and the trust's new going nowhere housing task force 🙁

  • Mad Dog is indeed an apt nom du plume. Overpopulation is not a problem...wealth distribution and colonial practices are the problem. "Growing numbers of people demanding residency"...ha, that would be all the second home owners who wrote to the trust to be excluded from the spec. tax.

  • Avatar Mad Dog says:

    "Overpopulation is not a problem". Clearly it is the most significant factor. If one looks at climate change, sustainability of energy food, water, etc. All these point back to overpopulation. The Japanese have a saying: Ask why five times to get to the root cause.
    "wealth distribution and colonial practices are the problem". Spoken like a true communist. Like it or not, living in the western world means we must accept the basics of market driven economics.

  • Really...we are talking about building affordable housing to counter the market driven economics and of course that cause you to shout communist...lol...peace out mad dog

  • Avatar Mad Dog says:

    I'm stepping back here as you clearly have an axe to grind and I don't wish to be drawn into an ideological debate that takes us far off topic. As others have pointed out, Mr. A's article was published in the "opinions" section and likewise, I was offering an opinion. It's unfortunate that many others may refrain from the DISCUSSION for fear of being personally offended. You seem to be the only person on this thread (and forum for that matter) that feels it necessary to attack anyone expressing an opinion. Best of luck in your endeavors in the SS Governance " DISCUSSION" group.
    peacing out...

  • Mad Dog attacking the messenger is not a way to debate. I will reiterate, this was posted in the news section. I addressed your points...you attacked me 😉

  • Avatar citizenfirst says:

    I think people move here because the majority want less density-so be it that it’s Single Family Homes. Those who want live/work or apartments or whatever should organize and lobby the powers that be-not slag those who have worked hard to buy what has been on on offer and available on the island.Those who want this model -SFD-aren’t going to advocate to change it.