Saturday, June 22, 2024
June 22, 2024

LCC gathers stakeholders for housing session

If attendees at the Local Community Commission (LCC)-hosted “Salt Spring housing workshop” had scant idea of just what the event was when they walked in, commissioner Brian Webster got quickly to the point of what it was not. 

“I don’t want this to be just another Salt Spring ‘check-in’ meeting, important as they are,” said Webster. “We have some responsibilities; we need to do some stuff.” 

So as equal parts listening workshop and silo-busting exercise, the large assembly at Meaden Hall Wednesday, May 22 welcomed leadership from various Salt Spring housing-issue-adjacent groups — a gathering of faces rarely seen all in one place at the same time, outside of a performance or picnic.  

Moderated by the Capital Regional District (CRD) Southern Gulf Islands service delivery manager Justine Starke, who thanks to a secondment was on-loan to help the LCC address Salt Spring Island’s affordable housing shortage, there were elected officials, CRD staff, leadership from groups ranging from Island Community Services to the North Salt Spring Waterworks District and representatives for local businesses.  

On one hand, the meeting was an opportunity to familiarize (or re-familiarize) attendees with the CRD’s vision of a pilot rural housing program for Salt Spring Island; those plans tentatively include financial incentives such as forgivable loans for people to build accessory dwellings — or secondary suites — within their properties’ existing zonings. Those would stack upon offerings from the province — because, Starke said, all agree that $40,000 isn’t going to “move the needle” much on whether someone would choose to build a rental cottage. 

And that pilot program will — should the CRD board agree — provide some start-up funding for multi-unit projects, most of which would likely be shepherded by many of the groups represented in the room; federal and provincial seed funding, Starke said, while welcome, is “never enough.”  

There was also, inevitably, some airing of grievances — rebukes from attendees on past missteps were polite, but pointed. What successes there had been over the years in creating housing didn’t go far enough; no one was suggesting (nor taking) a victory lap on the issue.  

And there was reflection, and a frank admission that even the highly energized (and still relatively new) LCC needed direction if they wanted their plans to have real effect on affordable housing supply — direction from the experts Starke noted were already in that room, and “in the trenches” on the housing issue.  

To illustrate, Starke invited attendees to consider Salt Spring’s well-intentioned bylaw allowing secondary suites adopted back in 2013. Starke had asked CRD staff to put together a number before the meeting: how many building permits have there been for secondary suites in the decade since? 

“Less than 10,” said Starke.  

Financial incentives, all agreed, would only be the start if there was to be a shift into a sustainable — and regulated — “islanders housing islanders” mindset on Salt Spring, where many of today’s landlords operate without building permits. Absent those permits, Starke noted, the water, septic and safety of the buildings isn’t guaranteed — “and that’s truly uncontrolled growth,” she added. 

The LCC was looking for marching orders, and they trickled in: more data for planning housing projects, and a go-to coordinating body to help move them along. Resources for pre-construction planning — and post-construction operation — set out in ways that might even invite private capital to the table. There were worksheets seeking more direction distributed and collected; LCC chair Earl Rook said later that week they received “concrete and usable direction” from participants. 

Rook told the Driftwood that his personal takeaway from the meeting was that the island’s housing stakeholders believe there is a role to play for the LCC, primarily in coordination efforts — both at the local level and in marshalling the resources of other levels of government — and that he expected this to be a “major priority of the LCC” going forward. 

The LCC began strategic planning over several days this week, and Rook said that between the suggestions they’d heard at the meeting and ideas they’d been “kicking around” over their first year since the election, the LCC felt ready to develop plans to advance the issue; but, he added, even as they digest what they’ve heard, it’s still important to keep listening. 

“There’s an open invitation,” said Rook as the May 22 meeting closed. “And if we think you’ve got some information we haven’t got, we’re going to come to you.” 

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