Tofino’s seasonal housing crisis has the district considering turning a blind eye to RVs camped on private property illegally.
During a recent regular meeting, Tofino’s municipal council reviewed a request from the Community Economic Development Advisory Committee to streamline Temporary Use Permit applications that allow for recreational vehicles (RVs) and camping on private property as a means of temporary housing.
Coun. Dorothy Baert, the committee’s chair, suggested the idea was to prevent the proliferation of unregulated RVs and to create a list of local property owners who are allowing illegal camping on their properties.
“That we find a way to maybe fast track a bit of legitimizing of that so that it’s still falling in the purvey of the municipality and not underground,” she said.
“We have a situation where a number of properties are hosting recreational vehicles, and such, to address some of the seasonal worker housing pressures and there’s no municipal mechanism actively in place around managing that.”
District CAO Bob MacPherson said Tofino has a temporary use permit process in place that’s “fairly streamlined as it is,” for locals to allow campers on their property legally.
“This is something that’s available to people now. I think that the application fee may be a barrier,” he said.
The district’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers said a temporary use permit for an RV on private property costs around $800.
Coun. Cathy Thicke suggested waiving the permit fee and creating a registry so the district could figure out how many RVs are operating as seasonal housing but she cautioned that rental costs should be regulated.
“Is there a limit to how much people can charge? Because I’ve heard staggeringly varying reports on what some people are charging,” she said.
Mayor Josie Osborne doubted the district could regulate rental amounts.
“The intention is essentially to legalize something we know is going on, or we suspect is going on, but to have a way for people to come forward and legitimize it and for a few controls to be put in place,” she said.
Coun. Al Anderson wondered how many people would register.
“Anybody that can or wants to have camping or an RV or something like that on their property is already doing that… I don’t think meddling for now in what’s going on is going to do a lot,” he said.
“If we do go this route, we’re adding a layer of bureaucracy and possibly a layer of enforcement where if you just leave it alone you’d have about the same amount of camping activity…I need to be convinced that it’s going to help.”
Rodgers said a registry would be impossible to put together this summer because he would be unable to process that many permit requests at once.
“I couldn’t do it. There’s not enough time in a year for me to process 150 temporary use applications,” he said.
“We’d have problems with enforcement resources as well. The way I would think about this is how many complaints have we received about this? Is this truly an issue that needs solving or is it, as Coun. Anderson said, something that’s taking care of itself for now.”
Coun. Greg Blanchette doubted locals would rush to participate in any kind of registry.
“There is a lot of temporary housing that’s not legal in town now and there’s really zero incentive for those people to come forward to get a temporary use permit,” he said.
“They don’t seem to be bothered by the illegality of their current situation and if you add even a modest fee, never mind an $800 fee, there’s no incentive whatsoever to come forward.”
He suggested the best move might be to ease up on enforcement and let locals know that the district wouldn’t be chasing down illegal campers on private property this summer.
“If we make it clear that, if you want to help out the accommodation situation in town by putting a tent in your backyard or an RV in your driveway, if you do it in a responsible way, people won’t be coming after you,” he said.
“I think this might be better handled by a press release or media campaign educating people on how we’re going to enforce the bylaw this year.”
Osborne noted the district enforces its bylaws on a complaint driven basis and suggested the words Blanchette was proposing could be troublesome.
“My feeling is we just make it clear that we take our public nuisance and other bylaws very seriously and that any complaint that comes forward is investigated and enacted upon, period,” she said.
Blanchette suggested this was too vague and would require people to read between the lines.
“Yes, I’m giving you an opportunity to read between the lines,” Osborne responded. “It’s a fine line to walk so we have to be careful.”
Baert suggested a registry was a key goal of the economic development committee’s request.
“I don’t think the intention around this was to create more seasonal housing. I think it was to realistically respond to a situation that’s happening on the ground and also find tools to manage it…Some are actually making a business of offering seasonal housing units without any kind of zoning or anything that supports it,” she said.
“Right now it is potentially a free-for-all; we’re parking trailers all over the place. There’s no mechanism for a registry…We are in a very stressed situation around seasonal worker housing, and we are trying to address it, but I’ve heard comments about how this community is turning into one big camp site.”
MacPherson said he was unclear what a registry would look like, and it would be difficult to convince locals to come forward and report their own illegal behaviours, but staff could ease up on illegal RV enforcement.
“Enforcement of bylaws is not mandatory and council could give direction to staff to make enforcement of a single RV on a property not a priority,” he said.
“How a registry fits into that, and what the registry means, I don’t know. I’m, kind of, struggling with the idea of a registry of illegal uses.”
Council agreed to temporarily scrap the registry idea and directed staff to explore the implications of not enforcing a specific bylaw, though Coun. Cathy Thicke reiterated her concern over RVs becoming expensive vacation rentals that seasonal workers couldn’t afford to live in.
“How do we prevent those same trailers from being Airbnb’s,” she asked. “I think there’s going to be a huge amount of abuse of that.”
Osborne agreed but said she was happy to see the issue being discussed.
“It’s important to acknowledge to the community that something is going on. We understand there’s a real problem with housing and we don’t maybe have any quick and easy solutions to deal with RVs but, we do have a concern about peoples’ safety and their living accommodations and the adequacy of them and the possible rent that property owners in Tofino could be charging,” she said.
“It’s dismaying to hear stories of excessive rent being charged because we’re in such a crisis situation and have such short supply.”