Saturday, May 25, 2024
May 25, 2024

Editorial: Nothing doing

There are times when reading just a headline isn’t enough. 

If you look across the water at what’s happening elsewhere with short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) — tagged as a cause of the affordable housing crisis, a pending provincial ban on most of them has sparked lawsuits in Victoria — it might be surprising to read that on Salt Spring, where the lack of affordable housing is felt so acutely, the land use authority here has decided to step back from a policy of chasing them down. 

Salt Spring’s Local Trust Committee (LTC) has rescinded a 2019 standing resolution that tasked staff with proactively enforcing against those unlawful rentals, taking the recommendation of Islands Trust staff and letting them, as bylaw compliance and enforcement manager Warren Dingman put it, “get on to other work.” 

Explicitly, rescinding the policy is meant to conserve staff resources; amusingly, the same argument was part of the justification for enacting it in the first place. But we feel that in ending a policy of proactive enforcement against these STVRs, trustees are leaning into one of local government’s biggest strengths: doing nothing. 

That is not meant uncharitably. The altruistic turning of a blind eye has long been central to the local government playbook on and around Salt Spring. From LTC decisions not to target unpermitted long-term rentals to the Capital Regional District’s specificity on keeping an RV’s porch detached to help avoid an unlawful permanent dwelling citation — it’s clear that when public policy doesn’t yet align with a community’s need, there are well-meaning people in local government ready to look the other way.  

At the traditionally — and perhaps necessarily — glacial pace of island governance, a quick-fix solution is always in peril of a longer tour of duty than intended. Staff resources creaked under the weight of chasing down Salt Spring’s STVRs, to say nothing of the occasional need to bring their owners to court — or, as we have also seen, of being handed a legal loss.  

In the meantime, trustees decided many of the STVR owners were themselves among those struggling against the rising cost of living. 

The policy was rescinded, not because all the story’s villains were brought to justice, but because there weren’t enough villains to go around.

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