Salt Spring Island’s exclusion from expanded Speculation and Vacancy Tax a "slap in the face", say community organizations

Leading Salt Spring Island community organizations and businesses are calling the B.C. Finance Minister’s lack of inclusion of the island in the latest expansion of B.C.’s Speculation and Vacancy Tax (SVT), “a slap in the face.”

Minister Selina Robinson announced on July 20 the expansion of the SVT to additional communities on Vancouver Island and in the lower mainland, saying, "People in these communities have been vocal. They've been vocal about the intense housing pressures that they are facing, including speculation and near zero vacancy rates."

Salt Spring Islanders have been vocal about the exact same issues and the urgent need for expanded local housing options since the community of 11,635 was first excluded from the tax in 2018. The island is being affected differently than its smaller neighbouring Gulf Islands because it has three ferry terminals and is adjacent to an area already covered by the tax, and because of its larger population and economy that extends well beyond a ‘cabin country’ suite of services.

The largest of the southern Gulf Islands is facing an extreme housing crisis which has seen working residents leave in droves. Along with service workers and tradespeople, the community is bleeding essential services personnel from water treatment systems to schools to the ferry service to Lady Minto Hospital, which also serves all of the surrounding islands.

The hospital is a perfect case in point of the complexities involved. In 2021, the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation assembled the funds to build a new emergency wing, nearly half of which was raised from the community itself. This much needed expansion of a critical regional health care facility is now under construction, but the trades personnel building it are from off-island and are living in tents and portables on Salt Spring for the duration of the project. The more permanent problem is that the hospital is already facing 35 staff vacancies due to the workforce housing shortage on Salt Spring, even before the new ER is built. This has prompted the hospital to buy a local motel to convert to staff accommodation.

The knock on effects of the housing crisis are evident no matter where you look on Salt Spring; economic and essential services shrinkage due to the severe lack of workforce housing and thus a lack of employees; vibrant arts and farming cultures are failing to renew because island artists and farmers have all become elders -- the younger generations simply cannot afford to live on the island, and working families and their kids are leaving the island due to the scarcity of housing options and the lack of economic opportunity.

“These compounded issues have been calling out for some kind of action for years. So the B.C. government’s recent decision to exclude our community again is truly a slap in the face for residents, businesses, and community groups who have been working tirelessly for years to try and address the housing crisis without the appropriate governance tools,“ says Rhonan Heitzmann who grew up on Salt Spring, and is the spokesperson for the group. “Minister Robinson has said she knows there are unique challenges for resort communities and there are other tools to address those concerns. Well, what are they? The B.C. government has yet to provide any such tools to Salt Spring Island. Meanwhile our situation gets worse with every passing day.”

Twenty-three Salt Spring Island community organizations and employers are banding together to demand a SVT be developed for the island to help address this crisis. “A full 20 percent of the homes on Salt Spring stand empty for more than six months of the year,“ says Heitzmann. “That’s a lot of foregone revenue that could be helping Salt Spring Island to avoid becoming a hollowed out executive and retirement community. No community is complete without a diversity of ages and incomes.”

The local mandate for action on housing is stronger than ever. In the soon-to-be-released Salt Spring Island Vital Signs 2022 Report, 96% of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I am concerned that the current housing situation will have negative impacts on the local workforce, economy and culture.”

Signatories to this call to action:

Salt Spring Island Housing Council
Community Economic Sustainability Commission
Transition Salt Spring Society
Salt Spring Solutions Society
Dragonfly Commons Housing Society
Wagon Wheel Housing Society
Copper Kettle Community Partners
Green Ground Community Design Society
Salt Spring Coffee Company
Salt Spring Cheese Company
Barb’s Cafe and Bakery
Salt Spring Water Company
Duck Creek Farm
Madrona Natural Health
Tour Salt Spring
Axe and Reel Outfitters
Bohemia Consignment
Village Builders
WAWWE Farm and Kitchen
Foxes At Play
Strong River Studios
Barnacle Strategies Consulting
exitStageLeft Productions

July 28, 2022 9:17 PM

  • oldboathouse says:

    There are many reasons for the housing crisis on Salt Spring Island but the most important and overlooked reason for such housing crisis is Salt Spring itself. This problem has been mounting for years now with very little being done to bring about the changes required for obvious solutions. If you look at the average permitted lot size and zoning on Salt Spring, it will point to the main reason for the lack of affordable housing. The zoning in place is not conducive to building affordable housing, nor is the necessary housing mix available for affordable housing which would meet the needs of our community. In this regard, there has been so little of the necessary change to the bylaws of Islands Trust in the last 20 years or more to show that we recognize the problem and are prepared to alleviate this situation which has become dire and is affecting our total community. To have affordable housing, we also have to look at the regulations and bylaws of the CRD and Islands Trust which actually add to the cost of housing and are part of the reasons which make housing unaffordable. We have regulated housing so that it is unaffordable. To respond by pointing elsewhere, like the provincial government STV, only demonstrates our lack of understanding of the housing crisis and our willingness to affect the delicate economic balance of our Island by grasping at any ill conceived and unlikely solution. Yes, the housing crisis is affecting us. No, the housing crisis will not be solved without looking within and by our willingness to stop laying the blame elsewhere. I am so grateful that the provincial government is not jumping on the band wagon of public pressure that unintentionally by there actions is requesting to do more harm to our community.

  • Terri Baxter says:

    Our government is failing us nationwide. God help us all.

  • Maxine Leichter says:

    Rhonan Heitzman is quoted as saying, " 20% of homes are vacant for 6 months or more." What is the source of this data? I'm not disputing the information, would just like to know the source.

  • Blake Brown says:

    A large part of this mess is that our MLA fought hard against the proposed SVT at the time, as we were originally included. According to his own words of March 26, 2018, he successfully lobbied the minority government to exempt Salt Spring, even though at the time a silent majority of us supported it. Now that the majority voice is at a loud roar, our MLA does a complete and calculated 180, saying he was "shocked" the SVT isn't applicable to SSI. Is it just a case of having a bad memory? An opportunistic misappropriation of facts? Or is it outright lying? Regardless, our MLA, as the saying goes, made this bed, and now has to sleep in it. Tax free too! #VoteBetter

  • Noah Cebuliak says:

    Same MLA who started using "build back better" and other WEF catchphrases around the time he calculated it would be politically beneficial. Looking forward to the next election Adam! (By the way, still waiting for that callback from your office that you promised 6 months ago.)

  • Wayne Hewitt says:

    I agree that the Gulf Islands should be included in the Speculation Vacancy Tax (SVT). Adam Olsen was only part of the problem. He was strongly lobbied by the Islands Trust Council to not include the Gulf Islands. I attended the Trust Council meeting back in 2018 when this topic was on the agenda. It was discussed and the majority voted for an exemption. Our own local trustees voted in favour of the exemption. In my opinion, their reasoning for not being included was faulty. I thought here we go again more Short Term Vacation Rentals -(STVR's) and more properties targeted for investment speculation. So now we have many more Short Term Vacation Rentals and not near enough housing for people who would like to live and work here. I heard that there are over 1000 people on SSI who do not have a family doctor. If a doctor could rent a home that is currently being used as a short term vacation rental then maybe we would get some family doctors and their families moving here.

  • Pierre Frisch says:

    No this is not a slap in the face. This tax does not work and please keep it out of here.

    As for the message obviously we don't listen to it so may be it is time to be creative and offer new solutions obviously the previous proposals did not work…

  • oldboathouse says:

    There is no source for this information Maxine and by using any logical formula it is totally incorrect.
    This 20% figure is used as a scare tactic to make a hollow argument.

  • Kelly says:

    Chances are it's much higher than 20%

  • oldboathouse says:

    So are your chances of winning a $20 million lottery jackpot

  • Colin Coe says:

    For the last 100 years at least the Gulf Islands have been a seasonal residence for many. For the simple reason that there's no industry and few decent paying jobs. It is only recently that it has become a destination for urban escapees who can't tolerate or afford Vancouver or Victoria but arrive with limited resources. For some reason they believe that housing on Salt Spring should be cheaper than anywhere within 100 miles. Check out housing costs from Chilliwack through Campbell River.
    But a vacancy and non resident tax appeals to class warriors and the xenophobic elements.
    Rather than apply a tax based on envy and class hatred come up with a solution to supply housing by densifying Ganges. Tear down some of the shabby third world commercial properties and put up attractive multi story (say 3 floors) apartments. Without the waterfront scenery Ganges could easily win BC’S shabbiest community and redevelopment is needed. Build housing units there rather that continuing to mow down our forests and demonizing those with seasonal properties (not me).
    And of course Airbnb units have removed a significant number of rental units. Address that issue first.

  • Susan de Stein says:

    In response to your story today about the Speculation and Vacancy Tax.

    There are many people vehemently opposed to the application of the "spec" tax here, and for good reason. Yet, for this "article", you didn't reach out and get an opinion from the "other" side. There were good reasons why Salt Spring was exempted from the tax in 2018 (supported by Adam Olsen fyi) and they still exist today. There is no evidence in communities where the tax has been applied that it has worked to do anything to dampen housing prices or improve affordability. If anything, prices have just continued to rise - as was predictable. This is a global issue, not one confined to a few places in BC.

    This is a blatant tax grab by this government and if applied here, in the short, medium and long term, will hurt our economy. These businesses who want it applied think it's a panacea? That this will help? They would be wrong. What is needed is more local (Islands Trust? CRD?) support for new zoning to allow affordable housing (like Bishops Walk) and clearly, more investment by the government, immediately. Penalizing, no, demonizing, people with a second home or cottage here is not the way to go; these residents support the businesses that signed your 'petition', help to create jobs and support the economy here in a big way. The lack of staff and inability of people to find adequate housing hurts everyone.

    Anyone I've talked to where a spec tax might apply have said they would not be adding their home to the rental pool - it's just not going to happen.

    If this organization thinks it's a slap in the face to Salt Spring that the tax wasn't applied here, they need to think again about just who they are slapping in the face -- long time residents of this island who support their businesses.

    And tell me that all the spec tax money that might be raised here would go to affordable housing projects here? Not going to happen either.

    I'd also like to know where the 20% comes from that people use to say that's how many homes are vacant for more than half a year. I was a realtor here for 12 years, retiring a little under 2 years ago. In that time, I have known of a very few number of homes that this applied to ... and I NEVER sold to anyone who bought for speculative purposes.

    Let's have a balanced view of a blatant tax grab that generates positive headlines for a few politicians for a short period of time, quells irrational (although well meaning) calls from communities to "do something", and never does what it's supposed to do.

    Susan de Stein
    Former Realtor

  • ejnickson says:

    Could we please create a lower-income neighborhood? Take 100 acres out of conservation, divide it into 1/4 acre lots and let people build their tiny homes or yurts or put their trailers on those lots, without government involvement other than providing water and power. The water issue on the island has been so thoroughly politicized, the water, in fact, hidden, in order to forestall development. While I understand the purpose, to stop the commodification of the island for developers and the wealthy, we badly need a diverse island, not one filled with the international rich, or wealthy retired government workers. There is lots of water in the south end, any one of the hundreds of creeks could be dammed and the water saved. Also, while we're at it, how about a mid-income neighborhood for medium income islanders. 1/2 acre lots. Every time we try to create low income housing through the trust, it gets caught in its sclerotic process and flounders. All these failed projects cost taxpayers and increase frustration and anger.

  • w101 says:

    One person's " slap in the face" is another person's kiss on the cheek.. Please stop asking for taxes / government to solve problems. They ARE the problem. This is simple. Go ask any builder why they won't/can't build "low income" or even middle class housing on SSI. It's NOT worth the hassle, and government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers.