The Tofino Lantern Festival once again provided an amazing experience for locals and visitors but a broken flip-flop at the event's kickoff made hobbling after two-year-old Jr.

Behest of the West: Ease up on vacation rental angst

Our housing problem won’t be solved by making villains out of locals trying to pay their mortgages.

Summer’s coming to an end, which is just as well because my favourite flip flops died a couple weeks ago and my backups aren’t equipped with the same bottle-opening soles that I need to open my beach pops.

I had just arrived at the Tofino Lantern Festival, with my two-year-old toddler in tow, when I felt disaster strike my right foot and knew before I looked down that my much needed Y-strap had abandoned ship.

The festival was, as it always is, an amazingly beautiful event. So amazing, in fact, that I actually enjoyed hobbling around one-footed as I chased Jr. through gorgeous trails desperately trying to thwart his endless efforts to tackle the many delicate flame-housing creations.

I called my b-team sandals off the bench for the weekend’s Otalith Music Festival and they’ll get me through summer’s final gasp before autumn’s rain starts to fall and I’m forced to find my sneakers.

As painful as it is to accept, September is a stone’s throw away and our window to complain about tourists is closing. Parking spots will reappear, water restrictions will be lifted and Co-op lineups will get shorter. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll quiet down. From gravel paths to sewage treatment plant locations, we’ll have more than enough to keep our angst occupied this offseason.

Let’s make sure we leave some room in there though for at least one of summer’s woes to linger. We have a very real housing crisis that’s only getting worse and waiting until March to think about it has gotten us nowhere.

Vacation rentals soared to the top of the scapegoat list this summer and will receive top billing at this month’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention where local leaders will harrumph over their lack of any ability to do anything about it.

The UBCM’s docket is chalk full of resolutions to force vacation rental providers to pay the same sort of taxes imposed on hotels and bed and breakfasts. The results of those resolutions could kill the unfair advantages currently being enjoyed by those who have figured out how to play the sharing economy game, but they won’t help our housing situation.

When Tofino courageously announced a plan to enforce the Business Licence Regulation Bylaw it adopted in 2000, 16 years ago, it was heralded as a ‘crack down’ on the vacation rental industry. They’re not suggesting they’re going to make vacation rentals illegal, they’re saying they’re going to go after the ones that already are by making sure anyone advertising a rental suite in 2017 has paid the $225 fee required to obtain a business license.

There are roughly 219 properties in Tofino being advertised as vacation rentals online. If we assume none of those properties has a business license, a far fetched assumption, and if we assume the district is actually going to be able to enforce a bylaw, colour me skeptical, then those 219 properties are going to fork over $49,275 in new business license revenue next year.

Tofino’s council has discussed upping that $225 fee but only as a means to pay for the increased bylaw enforcement needed to ensure whatever fee is being charged is being paid. The amount of money leftover won’t be enough to cover an out-of-town consultant’s plane ticket, much less launch any sort of housing project.

It’s admirable that the district is considering enforcing the laws our tax dollars pay to enforce, but this specific initiative won’t create more housing. The difference between what a home owner can collect from a local long-term tenant compared to a variety of thick walleted tourists is much greater than $225.

It’s hard to throw rocks at those homeowners. They live in an extremely expensive place to live. We pay roughly 21 per cent more for our groceries than Port Alberni does, according to the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s 2016 Living Wage report. Our living wage is $19.27 an hour. Parksville and Qualicum’s is $16.76. Port Alberni’s is $17.22. Cowichan’s is $17.55. Nanaimo’s is $17.99. Victoria tops us at $20.02 but it has a median family income of $86,430, according to Statistics Canada. Ours is closer to $45,000.

Local costs don’t jive with local wages. That means many of our homeowner’s mortgages can’t be paid without rental suite revenue. Our housing problem won’t be solved by making villains out of locals trying to pay their mortgages, it will be solved by building more housing and facilitating more housing projects.

 

Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News.