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Our first clear win on housing

Folks, it’s been a long and winding road, but today we finally have something to celebrate on housing! After years of pressure from people like you, the Local Trust Committee (LTC) finally passed some significant motions last week that should have a positive impact on our workforce housing crisis.

This is a huge win and we need to celebrate success!!!

Stepping back for a bit, the Islands Trust itself had written many reports over the past 20 years on things it could do to support affordable and workforce housing. The problem was, few to none of the recommendations were ever implemented.

Our group presented a comprehensive list of changes in July 2019 that they could make immediately without changing our Official Community Plan. Two years later, none of these had been implemented. All the while, the pandemic accelerated the trends of unaffordability and lack of housing supply for the working and middle class, creating the breakdown in the community we see today.

But just last week, the Trust staff recommended and the LTC approved the first round of recommendations from the Housing Action Task Force!

Incredibly, they agreed to specific policy changes – changes that have been studied and consulted around to death – that could make a real impact.

The three most important changes are:

  1. Stop bylaw enforcement on cabins, hotels, and guest houses providing long-term residency, unless there are specific health and safety, sewage, or water concerns.
  2. Expedite the building of affordable housing by supporting applications for this type of housing
  3. Draft a bylaw amendment to allow suites and accessory dwelling units – cottages, garages, and we presume, tiny homes – island-wide

We can’t tell you how important these changes are. While you can read more about the changes in this week’s Driftwood, here is our take:

On the first point, pausing bylaw enforcement, many renters on the island live in some form of “non-conforming dwelling”. Creative, small-scale building is part of the history of this island. This new enforcement freeze “until there are safe, secure, appropriate housing options that are affordable for all demographics and household types” will ease significant stress for renters and homeowners who rent dwellings on their land. Constantly living in fear of being evicted due to a grumpy neighbour complaint is not a healthy way to live or build community.

The second point to support affordable housing projects should seem obvious, but recent affordable housing proponents will find it refreshing to be proactively supported by the Trust in their efforts, rather than having continuous impediments thrown in their way. Not-for-profit housing developers deserve more support like fast-tracked permitting, fee waivers, relaxation of onerous requirements, advocacy to other government agencies, and public education on the need and benefits of small-scale homes for islander workforce to counteract a long-standing culture of fear and NIMBYism.

The third point on approving cottages and suites is another huge win, if it happens. There are hundreds of existing dwellings that could be used as rental housing, as long as water and other environmental concerns are addressed. While the island needs new workforce housing options, making use of existing buildings is the most affordable and environmentally-friendly option — and the one that is immediately available.

If the Trust approves the forthcoming bylaw amendment on this, anyone who has tried to house an ageing parent or adult child on their land should rejoice that they will be able to come out of the shadows and do this legitimately and without shame.

As always, there is more to do – with easing the way for better farmworker housing, land sharing and clustered housing, with adjusting the North Salt Spring Waterworks’ blunt-instrument water moratorium, with inaction at the scale of the crisis from the CRD, and with finding private or non-profit developers who will take on the massive challenge of planning, funding, and building workforce housing projects.

But let’s celebrate these tangible actions from our Local Trust Committee as important first steps. They take some of the pressure off and send an important signal to our community: that people matter.

This win is due to the efforts of people like you who wrote letters, attended town halls, wrote articles for the Driftwood, Exchange, or Facebook, who joined the Housing Action Task Force and who fought back against the outdated thinking that we can’t protect the environment while also protecting the people who make this community work.

Please take a moment to celebrate, and thank all the people who worked so hard to make this happen.

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