This article was published by Erinanne Harper in the Driftwood on Nov 20, 2019.
As we face our community’s and country’s declared climate emergency, the time for more talk is over. We need major shifts in the way we think, act and relate to everything. Many planners and consultants have studied the affordable housing situation here over the past 15 years and determined some clear solutions to solving the growing crisis which also happen to deal with some of the main climate change concerns. If we’re going to make a dent in the biggest issues of our times, NOW is the time for action, NOW is the time to be the change we all need.
So instead of putting the breaks on these solutions out of concern for environmental impacts, it’s time to ask ourselves and the Islands Trust: what if action on housing was also action on the climate? My environmental science and permaculture education, as well as my personal experience living in a radical affordable housing situation and working for TSS makes it crystal clear that these two issues are inseparable.
Many groups have been working on various issues related to climate change and housing, including Transition Salt Spring with their Climate Action Plan Update launching on Nov 30th (10am at GISS) and their biennial Eco-home tour. Recently Salt Spring Solutions, Transition Salt Spring, the Chamber of Commerce and others presented a letter on housing solutions in a delegation to the Islands Trust. The well researched solutions presented there and outlined below all fall within the Trust’s jurisdiction and fulfill the mandate to preserve and protect our precious natural environment and unique island community.
Legalizing cottages and suites
Many people on Salt Spring already live in illegal dwellings and many homeowners are having issues with finding the right tenants for their extra cabins or suites even if they were legal. Meanwhile a significant proportion of our local population lives in fear of being evicted with our complaint driven system. Using existing buildings to house people and families saves significant energy and resources when compared to building new homes. It’s also cheaper, sensible, and needs to be actively supported by our local governments. CRD could also more easily offer to put notices on title of non-conforming buildings.
Many of you are already aware that there already exist on SSI a number of ecovillages, or permaculture oriented communities. I’ve lived in one for the past 10 years and I can say it has many sides, up and down. Some of the upsides are living with people who share many of the same values, learning how to communicate, problem solve, when to live and let live, and mainly being able to share land and resources. Some of the downsides are dealing with the stress of being treated like an outlaw, having authorities threaten you with various legal action from fines to bulldozers, and not having the clarity to invest in improvements given the uncertainty of legal status.
This housing solution has small and existing dwellings used for housing, having much less environmental impact than the large new homes which are not regulated for size or resource use. Clusters of smaller, low-impact homes allowed in exchange for a commitment to conservation and permaculture practices uses fewer resources including energy and water than conventional homes and are a great fit with the culture and history of our island.
We don’t have a water shortage issue- we have a water storage issue, especially as climate and weather patterns change, this is going to be an increasingly urgent issue for everyone. Currently there are some minor programs and incentives for rainwater collection but multiple new units of affordable housing are being stalled due to resistance to permitting rainwater for potable use. We need proactive programs by Islands Trust and CRD to support innovation in rainwater collection education and installation by homeowners, and especially for approving new affordable housing developments.
Homes in Town to Protect our Forests
In Ganges, land is already occupied by retail used primarily in the daytime but that could easily support upper level apartments. Building up would create more housing to help people that are currently looking for a place because they have no home, they live in an unhealthy situation, or they commute from off island. This could also benefit the people, culture and businesses by reducing commuting and travel, adding to the vibrancy of town after hours, and creating an all round safer neighbourhood around the clock.
And while our community searches for ways to stop clearcut logging, currently, owners of private lots can do whatever they want to sensitive ecosystems unprotected by Development Permit Areas. Private property rights need to be balanced with the impact that activities on those lands have to neighbourhoods and ecosystems. What if development densities in forested areas were transferred from ecologically sensitive lots to places closer to town? This would protect our remaining wild places and focus people where the human action is already happening, reducing our land and transportation footprints.
I hope we no longer need to suffer the tyranny of the lowest common denominator, the belief that we are stuck in a system where we can’t do anything to help ourselves achieve better solutions (no incorporation arguments inserted here thank you). There is no zero sum game between housing people and protecting our precious island from environmental harm. They can be one and the same solution waiting for enactment of smart sustainable planning with creativity in alignment with our community’s values to serve everyone.
A group of us have called for a positive, solutions-oriented rally this Friday Nov. 22nd, 9am at the Islands Trust offices on Lower Ganges Road. If you’re fired up by what’s possible, I hope to see you at our Rally for Housing Solutions! Please bring a friend!