Letter to the editor

LETTER – Response from Islands Trust does little to clear up ‘misunderstanding’

Dear editor,

I am writing in response to the letter from the Denman Island Local Trust Committee (DI-LTC) that sought to clear up some “misunderstanding” (Islands Trust trustees address Denman Island housing issue). Unfortunately, the letter confuses the situation even more, for those who don’t understand how the Islands Trust functions, with its various overlapping levels.

Please be aware that this letter from the Denman Island Local Trust Committee is not a letter from the enforcement branch of Islands Trust. They are two different and separate entities. While the Local Trust Committee “can only speak to [their] actions and policies” they are not speaking about the realities of what the Islands Trust Bylaw Enforcement Officer (IT-BEO) did on Denman Island, and the community aftermath of his July 30, 2020 visit, to various homes on Denman Island.

While the DI-LTC may not have initiated the enforcement activities, they were initiated by someone, and an on-island visit was conducted on July 30, 2020. During that day the IT-BEO travelled around Denman, in some cases accompanied by the Agricultural Land Commission officer, who had been invited to attend by the IT-BEO. These are facts.

I wish I had thought to video my interactions with them, and I will be prepared to do so in the future, however I didn’t think of it at the time. That is unfortunate as this has turned into a he said, they (the enforced upon) said – situation.

The LTC writes:

“First, a standing resolution was made pre-COVID (in June 2019) by your local trust committee in recognition of the housing crisis (see page 3, number 7 here). This standing resolution is temporary.”

Response: The IT BEO was not aware of Standing Resolution DE-2019-056 when he was speaking with me at an enforcement ‘event’ on July 30th. I asked him directly. He denied knowledge of it.

Standing resolution DE-2019-056 was recently reviewed by the Local Trust Committee at their Jan. 19, 2021 meeting, which is when they made that resolution temporary and due for another “review” in January of 2022. This is not very reassuring to island renters, as it gives us less than a year to try to improve a decades-long situation, that the DI-LTC has so far insisted is not within their mandate, when the topic comes up at LTC meetings.

Also, that resolution only applies if only one complaint is made, or if only one “unlawful” dwelling is present. Some members of our Denman community, in recognition of the long-time housing crisis, provide access to (“unlawful”) housing for more than one person/home. It only takes two complaints, or two “unlawful” homes to make it past Standing Resolution DE-2019-056, which leaves many people still at risk of continued bylaw enforcement.

The LTC writes:

“Second, in March 2020, an Islands Trust-wide decision was made not to pursue enforcement on unlawful or non-permitted dwellings that would result in tenants being evicted. We have kept to that policy through the public health emergency, and we have informed complainants, property owners, and – where possible – tenants, of this fact.”

Response: The Islands Trust Bylaw Enforcement Officer who visited Denman Island on July 30, 2020 did not speak or behave like he was aware of this decision. Did the Local Trust Committee communicate this to the BEO? Did they communicate this before or after his July 30th visit?

The IT-BEO was very concerned with looking for illegal housing during his visit. In fact, he told me at one point that if we couldn’t prove (by letting him inspect inside) that no one was living in a unit, that he would have to assume it was inhabited and may be enforced on.

“The Denman Island Local Trust Committee has never issued an eviction order.”

True, the DILTC and the IT-BEO did not issue any eviction orders. However, the IT-BEO made verbal threats to enforce on “unlawful” housing, which led to a number of people receiving eviction orders from their reluctant, yet fearful, landowners. These landowners were demonstrating that they were getting “into compliance” with local bylaws by issuing those eviction notices.

“In 2020 and (to date in) 2021, Islands Trust bylaw enforcement staff did not issue any demands or requests to vacate unlawful housing, nor any deadlines related to this.”

If this is true, would the DI-LTC please communicate directly with the community of Denman Island and the affected landowners and tenants? Why can’t or won’t they inform us that we can continue to live (without fear of bylaw enforcement) in our “unlawful” housing?

If they can not reassure us of the above, how are we to feel reassured by their letter that neither addresses nor deals with the reality of IT-BEO actions on and stemming from the July 30th enforcement visit?

Not once has the DI-LTC asked me any questions about my complaint against the July 30th enforcement visit. Why are they not communicating directly with renters?

So far the DILTC answers to questions from our community have danced around the issues, as their letter to the editor does. In my attempts to reach out to the DI-LTC I have only received one form letter (not even addressed to me) on this matter, and two small notes on a different matter. When I spoke at the January 19, 2021 meeting, 2 Trustees said they were not aware of the situation, therefore couldn’t speak about it.

What the “unlawful” renters of Denman Island (approximately 15 per cent of our island population) want is to feel safe in our homes, during a time of great social and economic upheaval. We also want our Local Trust Committee to engage with us in dealing with fixing the ongoing decades-long housing crisis on our island. Why on earth are they not communicating with us, the vulnerable renters?

Dear Denman Island Trustees, instead of arguing details of enforcement vs eviction, or DI-LTC vs IT-BEO, can we please get to the table together to deal with our lived realities as valuable, yet vulnerable, members of the community – in need of housing options? Please?

In light of the lived realities of “unlawful” renters on Denman Island, we have created a petition asking the DI-LTC to establish a full moratorium on bylaw enforcement against “unlawful” dwellings, while we revamp our Official Community Plan, and craft functional and relevant Land Use Bylaws that reflect our love of the environment and how we really live on this island.

If the Denman Islands Local Trust Committee truly wants to communicate care and support for 15 per cent of our island population, they will listen to the 500+ signatures (online and in person) of Denman residents who want functional and “lawful” homes for our community.

I am registered as a delegate for their March 16, 2021 DI-LTC meeting, where I will present this petition and request that full moratorium for the benefit and reassurance of our island community. This situation continues. Please keep watching and learning.

To sign the petition, go to http://chng.it/TtwTyQ5z

Riane da Silva,

Denman Island

Letter to the Editor

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