Affordable for Who?

December 19, 2015

I will gladly admit that I lucked out for most of the 16 years I lived on Salt Spring Island when it came to housing. The apartment I lived in had a “million dollar” view of the southern part of Ganges Habour.

It had (and still has, I’m sure)  a unique interior design. One of my regular American clients said it reminded her of a San Francisco apartment which means old and funky with character is cool. My photo on my website at of me giving a friend a tea leaf reading, in a red top, at a wood tablenext to the window with the view, will give an great idea as to what I mean.

Where my son and I stayed was within easy walking distance of the shops and the rainforest. He never had to drive home ‘under the influence’ while he was ‘sowing his oats’. If one of my beater cars broke down, I still had access to everything including the trail through the Douglas firs that I walked every evening. Luke, even if he was a bit late, was always within an easy sprint of Thifty Foods where he starting his career stocking shelves.

The apartment location was ideal when Luke left home and I set up the spare bedroom as a Room for the Traveller and brought people from many countries to my door.

Most of all, for all of  those years, until a misunderstanding with my landlord ended our association, my rent began at $450 a month and rose to $530 (I think) by the time I finally left in 2013.

Most people on Salt Spring, especially of my class — and by that I mean the healers, psychics, artists, musicians, actors , writers  and spiritual practitioners– have endlessly shuffled themselves around the island in pursuit of a decent place with decent rent or, less often, a low mortgage.

Yet we are the people who give the island the beautiful ambiance that makes it the envy of many,many, many people. One time a metaphysical shop owner in Vernon, BC said to me — when I was musing over the fact that I might not live on Salt Spring Island for the rest of my life — “Who would ever move from Salt Spring?”  The idea of living there is a fantasy for many and the idea of living there and leaving seems absurd indeed.

I left and to paraphrase Cher: I believe in love (of traipsing around BC and world) after love of Salt Spring Island.

The following article expresses my frustration with how challenging it is for many to find a decent place to live on what is called “Paradise” by many. If it was truly paradise then everyone would be living the lifestyle they truly want there when it comes to places to stay and affordable prices overall.

Read on:

Salt Spring Village Views

April 16, 2004

Affordable for Who?

by Tanya Lester

Affordable housing is a relative term.

If you make $60,000 or more annually then a $200,000 house and lot on Salt Spring Island — where the only thing soaring higher than the eagles are real estate prices — is affordable.

The problem is most people working on Salt Spring make considerably less than $60,000. According to the Statistics Canada website, the 2001 Census lists the median total income of people 15 years of age and over on this islands as being $21,284.

For the majority of island workers, a 26-lot subdivision proposed for Norton Road is anything but affordable.

“We have to have good policies in place before we allow developers to apply for affordable housing,” said Daria Bishop, who lives on Norton Road.

In a petition to the Islands Trust, Norton Road area residents list seven concerns pertaining to the development. If given the green light by the Islands Trust, each 3,000 square foot lot with a 1,000 square foot house on it would sell for $2000,000. This would mean a total of $5 million for the developer.

Bishop believes subdivision site owner Norm Elliott is using the tern “affordable housing” to appeal to the public. However, she pointed out the house her husband bought six years ago cost under $2000,000. Even with both of them working, she said., it is a challenger to keep up with payments.

Ellen Garvie, Salt Spring Community Housing and Land Trust Society executive director, agrees the term “affordable” is not synonymous with $200,000. when the average full-time Salt Spring worker makes $35,000 according to the 2001 Canadian census.

Garvie said this puts affordable housing on the island in the $80,000 to $140,000 price range. It is lower still for people who work part-time, for the winter season, in a place where money comes and goes in direct correlation with the rise and fall of the tourist trade. An average of part-time and full-time workers brings the annual income down to $23,000.

Garvie said her figures are based on the house buyer using  25 percent of her or his income on mortgage payments and another five percent covering taxes. In this way, “success (in buying a home) is more likely than not”, she said. She also considers the possibility that interest rates might not remain at six percent.

Tom O’Connor of O’Connor Project Planning disagrees with Garvie’s figures.O’Connor, who will be developing the subdivision subject to Islands Trust approval, puts the island’s median annual income at $49,000. He said this figure is one he obtained from the Trusts’ Official Community Plan (OCP).

At $200,000, the 26 houses will be affordable for teachers, police officers and ferry workers, said O’Connor. He added anyone purchasing the subdivision homes would be required to have primary residence on Salt Spring. He or she will work here. There will also be stipulations so the owner will be unable to sell the house at an elevated price in a few years.

On the other hand, Bishop is supportive of co-operative housing, as an example of affordable housing, but feels housing developments should stay within Ganges village boundaries. She said Atkins Common is the cutoff according to the OCP.

This would avoid suburban sprawl and save agricultural land, said Bishop, who, with her husband, owns Bishop’s Brew House, has a vineyard on their property and describes herself as an organic farmer. “I am afraid we’re going to lose a lot of agricultural land,” said Bishop. “We need that land to provide food.”

Traffic increase will be another problem, Bishop said. At a March-end Islands Trust Committee (ITC) meeting, it was reiterated that a vehicle coming from the Vesuvius direction cannot legally turn onto Norton. The increase in housing will mean an increase in traffic in potentially dangerous areas included the steep hill on Scarf Lane, stated Bishop.

In addition, the Norton Road area group is concerned the Coastal Western Screech Owl, which uses the area as its prime habitat, will be put at risk. “We don’t think it should be logged because of the screech owls,” said Bishop.

An increase in sewage costs and increased water demands are other concerns.

At the ITC meeting attended by 15 Norton Road residents, O’Connor was instructed to obtain a letter from local waterworks that ensured  water would be available for the 26 additional houses. He was also told to approach the Capital Regional District about adequate sewage disposal.

O’Connor said he plans to have meetings with Norton Road residents as the process for the subdivison unfolds.

— END–




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