Group says vacancy tax could help alleviate Salt Spring’s housing crisis

A growing group of Salt Spring Island residents are outraged that Finance Minister Selina Robinson did not include the island in the latest expansion of speculation and vacancy tax areas. British Columbia.

The first question Salt Spring Island businesses or organizations typically ask a potential employee is, “Do you have accommodations?” »

On the largest of the Gulf Islands, having a home may trump skills amid a severe shortage of housing for the workers needed for its booming tourism, agricultural and arts economy, as well as essential services like its hospital and its ferry system.

“We’ve always had a housing crisis,” says Jennie Coles, who runs Barb’s Cafe and Bakery. “But now it’s an acute housing crisis. There’s just nothing to rent here, and if there is, you can have 30 people waiting for something that just isn’t affordable.

Daniel Wood of the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company needs about 60 employees to continue operations during the summer season, but is understaffed due to lack of space.

Last week, three workers were staying in a guest room in the family home. Others are commuting from their homes on Vancouver Island, though BC Ferries has not canceled the crossings due to lack of available staff.

“The housing shortage has been absolutely devastating to a lot of businesses and just about everything else here,” Wood says.

Coles and Wood are part of a growing group of Salt Spring Islanders calling themselves Salt Spring Solutions who are outraged that Finance Minister Selina Robinson did not include the island in the latest expansion of taxable areas. on speculation and the vacancy of British Columbia.

The tax, introduced in the February 2018 budget, was created to help address the shortage of affordable housing in British Columbia by encouraging owners of vacant homes to rent or sell them. The speculation tax rate is 2% of the assessed value of a property for foreign owners and satellite families and 0.5% for Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

Robinson included Duncan, Ladysmith, North Cowichan and Lake Cowichan in the latest round this month – as well as Squamish and Lion’s Bay, but not Salt Spring, despite islanders’ concerns about near-zero vacancy rates.

Rhonan Heitzmann, spokesperson for Salt Spring Solutions, said islanders have expressed an urgent need for expanded local housing options since the community of 11,635 was first excluded from the tax in 2018.

“It’s an extreme housing crisis that has seen workers leave in droves,” Heitzmann said, adding that along with service workers and shopkeepers, the community is bleeding essential service personnel needed for everything from systems to water treatment to schools, ferry service and Lady Minto Hospital, which also serves all of the surrounding Gulf Islands.

Salt Spring Solutions estimates that 20% of homes in Salt Spring are empty for more than six months of the year. “That’s a lot of lost revenue that could help Salt Spring Island avoid becoming an empty executive and retiree community,” Heitzmann said. “No community is complete without a diversity of ages and incomes.”

Heitzmann said the hospital is among many organizations in the community feeling the pinch of housing. She said a new emergency wing is currently under construction, but the workers building it come from off the island and live in tents and laptops.

The hospital also has 35 vacancies that are proving difficult to fill.

The “ripple effects” of the housing shortage are everywhere, Heitzmann noted.

“Vibrant artistic and agricultural cultures are not renewed because the island’s artists and farmers have all become elders – younger generations simply cannot afford to live on the island, and working families and their children are leaving the island due to the scarcity of housing options and lack of economic opportunities,” she said.

Coles said she and her husband and business partner Jason Coles are tenants themselves and feel “constant anxiety” about losing their home – and possibly their cafe – if they ever have to start renting. look for a new place.

“You face $2,500 a month for a two- or three-bedroom unit. That’s a lot, and you start thinking, “Can I find something in Crofton and commute every day?” “, Coles said. “I’m worried about the staff because a lot of people are paying 50% of their salary just to rent accommodation.

Heitzmann said the province’s exclusion of Salt Spring from the speculation tax zone “is truly a slap in the face” to those who have worked for years to resolve the housing crisis.

In a statement Thursday, Robinson said the province wants to see how the recent expansion of the speculation tax is going in areas like the Cowichan Valley before considering any other potential expansions.

Robinson noted that the province has funded 78 homes in Salt Spring since launching a 10-year housing plan in 2018. “But I know that, like in many parts of the province, residents of Salt Spring Island and Southern Gulf Islands continue to face affordable housing challenges.

dkloster@timescolonist.com