Housing

Meet Omrane and Sarah—the entrepreneurs about to lose their home

This is part one of a series of previews of our upcoming feature on housing and water on Salt Spring Island, for subscribers only.

By Jimmy Thomson
August 1, 2020
Housing

Meet Omrane and Sarah—the entrepreneurs about to lose their home

This is part one of a series of previews of our upcoming feature on housing and water on Salt Spring Island, for subscribers only.

By Jimmy Thomson
Aug 1, 2020
James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Housing

Meet Omrane and Sarah—the entrepreneurs about to lose their home

This is part one of a series of previews of our upcoming feature on housing and water on Salt Spring Island, for subscribers only.

By Jimmy Thomson
August 1, 2020
Get the news and events in Victoria, in your inbox every morning.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Meet Omrane and Sarah—the entrepreneurs about to lose their home
James MacDonald / Capital Daily

This is part one of our feature on housing and water on Salt Spring Island. Part two of this feature is here, part three is here, and the full feature is here.

Omrane Hassan and Sarah-Vanessa Daigle have planted a garden. It’s overflowing with bounty already in the early June heat, spilling out onto a lawn they don’t own, just out the basement door that will soon be locked to them. 

It will be the eighth time Hassan has had to move in the six years he’s lived on Salt Spring Island, and Daigle is no different. The couple says they’ll bring the plants with them, but given that one of their possible next homes is a sailboat anchored in Ganges Harbour while another is a van parked on a side street somewhere, it’s unlikely the plants will thrive like they do here, in a sunny backyard on a gently sloping hill. 

The plants wouldn’t be the only thing that would suffer from a move. Their cleaning business depends on a certain amount of space for staging and storage, and losing what little space they have now will throw it into chaos. 

“Business is—” Daigle begins.

“Phenomenal,” Hassan gushes, and she nods. They haven’t advertised in months and still they hear from prospective clients every day. “But there’s just no labour.” 

The couple can’t find anyone to work for them. There’s more than enough demand for young, energetic workers on an island with a median age more than 10 years older than the province as a whole. But few people can afford to live here. 

“You can go to an art store and pick up a painting, but you can’t get your fridge fixed,” says Bryan Young, chair of Transition Salt Spring, a climate advocacy group. “We have a lot of the people who work in Country Grocer who come in on the friggin’ ferry from Crofton, because they can’t find a home.”

The shortage of housing cuts across industries.

“Teachers, RCMP officers, healthcare providers—we’re having a hard time recruiting doctors—we’re definitely seeing it in all sectors of our economy. People that would be working can’t afford to be here,” says Kisae Petersen, executive director of Islanders Working Against Violence, an organization that is building a small housing project on the eastern edge of Ganges. 

Still under construction, the cost of building the development, Croftonbrook, had to account for a half-million dollar investment in a grey water system to make the most of the well water it was using—because despite being just steps from downtown Ganges, it can’t be connected to the local water service.

About 600 customers across five corners of Salt Spring have access to small Capital Regional District-operated water systems. Water for more than three times that many residents, including those who live in Ganges, is provided by North Salt Spring Waterworks. But the waterworks instituted a strict moratorium in 2014. It hasn’t connected a new water user to its system since. 

As a result, new housing projects in or near the island’s commercial centre must be connected to their own well, leaving developers to face down a maze of questions anyone with piped-in water doesn’t need to think about: is there enough groundwater to meet everyone’s needs? Who will manage the well? Where will the wastewater go? How much will it cost?

Those questions have been enough to prevent almost any new affordable housing from being built on the island at a time when existing rental housing is increasingly being converted back to owner-occupied as the owners retire or sell their homes to eager buyers from the city. Their homes—the ones Hassan and Daigle clean, occupying thousands of square feet of living space—are free to use water as they see fit. They can have hot tubs and endless gardens, and pay a bit more for their increased consumption. Multiple vacation rentals and real estate listings boast poolside living.

Currently five affordable housing projects have been put on hold, some for more than a decade.

It’s common knowledge that on this island, with a well educated, independent-minded, stubborn population, if you get five people in a room together they’ll come out with six different opinions. Even the name of the place contains an internal contradiction, as though it can’t agree even with itself: Salt Spring, named for springs of water, just not the drinkable kind. 

Accordingly, the place contains both abundance and scarcity of water, dispersed in time and space. Housing, too, wouldn’t be in short supply if it was measured in total square footage instead of the number of front doors. The inevitable result is a class-warfare mentality among those who are left out, and a sense of oblivious defensiveness among those raising the drawbridge.

Where water and housing meet, the distance between positions on how to allocate them is growing ever wider, but there are plenty of people who will agree with Rhonnan Heitzmann: “Our island is in a slow-motion collapse,” he says. 

He can’t find employees for his business—an increasingly essential water delivery service—and he’s barely squeezed his way into the scorched and desiccated housing market. But on his own piece of hillside land, water surges forth in a never-ending stream, burbling merrily into the open from deep below ground.

Read the full feature here.

Support Your Community, Support Local Journalism

With paid membership, every penny goes directly to helping our newsroom continue its work and helps our team grow and expand our coverage

Become a Member

The Capital Daily Newsletter

Get the news and events in Victoria, in your inbox every morning.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
contact@capitaldaily.ca

Support Your Community, Support Local Journalism

With paid membership, every penny goes directly to helping our newsroom continue its work and helps our team grow and expand our coverage

Become a Member

The Capital Daily Newsletter

Get the news and events in Victoria, in your inbox every morning.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Related News

Capital Ideas: Housing supply should be a priority for Victoria council and voters