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
WAWWE Farm and Kitchen
Foxes At Play
Strong River Studios
Barnacle Strategies Consulting