With an increasing shortage of affordable housing for our workforce, Salt Spring Island’s housing crisis is worsening and impacting every aspect of our community – our seniors, businesses, hospital and schools. To find a path forward to a more resilient, ecologically sustainable community, we published Homes for Islanders: An Integrated Housing Solutions Framework for Salt Spring Island which identifies five strategies for our addressing our immediate housing problems. Find out more here and support our work to create a community-led conversation about solutions.

New Proposal to Fix the
Housing Crisis on Salt Spring

Strategies for Housing Solutions

Strategy 5: Accessory Dwelling Units

Although Salt Spring Island is widely known as an idyllic place to spend a weekend in a cozy cabin, a yurt in the forest, or a tiny home on an agricultural property, these and other types of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are mostly prohibited as long-term residences. The well-documented benefits of ADUs as a private-sector housing solution, coupled with the common knowledge that many islanders live full-time in illegal ADUs, provides a strong case for legalizing and guiding this type of rural infill housing.

What’s an ADU?

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Benefits of ADUs:

  • no new land or government funding required
  • maintain the existing character of the neighbourhood
  • require fewer resources to build and maintain than larger dwellings and are easier to finance and less expensive to build
  • respond to increasing demand for small dwellings
  • help seniors stay in their homes, with income that can help qualify for a mortgage
  • support multi-generations and communal living

Concerns about ADUs can be addressed:

  • Overpopulation – Given the high cost of construction, legalizing ADUs for long-term occupancy is more about creating a path for legalizing existing ADUs and allowing modest increases in specific areas, especially for multi-generational living, rather than creating a lot of new housing stock.
  • Water and Wastewater The permit process requires that water and wastewater requirements are addressed prior to getting a building permit for an ADU. In addition to this safeguard, data shows that current standards require far more water to be available on each residential property than is typically used.
  • Sensitive Ecosystems The same setbacks, development permit area guidelines, and provincial and federal regulations that safeguard ecologically sensitive areas from the potential impacts of building detached houses also apply to ADUs.
  • Short-Term Rentals Currently, short-term occupancy in ADUs is widely allowed for seasonal cottages and tourist accommodations, while long-term occupancy is not. This needs to be flipped to allow more legal long-term rental homes for locals. Zoning and business licensing are the existing tools used in other communities that could equitably regulate short-term rentals without preventing long-term occupancy.

Actions recommended by Salt Spring Solutions:

  • Islands Trust – provide public information and education on the impacts and benefits of ADUs
  • Islands Trust – Integrate recommendations from the Housing Action Program Task Force in the proposed Bylaw 530 and renew effort to permit long-term occupancy of ADUs and tourist accommodations in all residential zones
  • Islands Trust – Explore creating a density bonus program to conditionally all additional ADUs that achieve high ecological or energy standards or that maintain affordability
  • Islands Trust – Update zoning regulations to modernize and limit short-term accommodation uses.
  • CRD – Resource a business licensing system for short-term rentals in line with best practices
  • CRD – Resource internal capacity for managing private housing agreements for ADUs with affordability controls.
  • CRD – Identify funding for capital grants and other incentives for private development of ADUs under housing agreements.
  • SSIWPA – Provide recommendations for where ADUs can be best located based on available water supply information.
  • NSSWD – Revise policies to define ADUs as an intensification of an existing water service instead of a new hook-up.
  • NSSWD – Remove barriers to legalizing ADUs within the NSSWD
  • NSSWD – Explore innovative policies and practices for encouraging water conservation, developing alternative sources of non-potable water, and restricting treated domestic water for interior uses only.

Salt Spring Island requires a housing strategy and an entity that is resourced and clearly designated as responsible for overseeing a focused and coordinated interagency approach for housing. This is needed to overcome the substantial challenges of our siloed governance and long tradition of creating housing plans that are not implemented, and to direct a solution to the complex servicing issues in Ganges Village.

The Salt Spring Island community needs better ways to learn about and discuss important, complex, and controversial issues. History demonstrates that our local government processes fall short in facilitating informed, inclusive, and constructive community engagement. At worst, this can create barriers to making progress on many important issues, including housing. It is imperative that we find ways to redirect, reform, or supplement the current public process to improve our comity’s capacity to problem-solve together.

Unchecked residential sprawl is changing Salt Spring Island from a rural community characterized by farms, forest, homesteads, village nodes, and diverse households into a subdivided patchwork of private, affluent estates. Private residential development typically maximizes private views and interests without equal consideration of natural systems or broader community needs, including attainable housing. Instead of continuing to accept the status quo as an entitlement, Salt Spring Island must limit this kind of growth on undeveloped land and incentivize investment that protects nature space, water resources, and farmland, and allows households of varying incomes to live across the island.

There are many reasons why more housing and higher-density, mixed-use development on Salt Spring Island should be focused near the social and economic heart of our community, Ganges Village. There are also a multitude of challenges to implementing what initially appears as a common-sense solution. Nonetheless, the eventual benefits of having a walkable, socially inclusive and economically vital village should compel local government agencies to prioritize this work as an intergovernmental collaboration and address the challenges proactively.

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New Proposal to Fix the Housing Crisis on Salt Spring

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