The Tofino Housing Corporation is continuing its push for a larger slice of the town’s tourism revenue pie.
The THC has set a target to add 150 affordable rental units and 30 affordable ownership units to the community’s vastly overwhelmed housing supply by 2030.
In an Oct. 12 presentation to Tofino’s municipal council, the corporation’s executive director Ian Scott explained that the THC receives funding through the provincial government’s online accommodation platform tax, but does not currently have access to general Municipal, Regional and District Tax funds, collected by local hotels and resorts.
He suggested Tofino’s resorts are rebounding faster than online accomodations.
“What is disappointing, when we look at the general trend, is it seems like maybe we’re a bit behind the recovery that’s been experienced in the hotel sector,” he said. “Last year, we were down about 30 per cent compared to 2019, whereas the general MRDT was down only about 20 per cent.”
He said the THC’s 2019 portion of the online accommodation tax was $274,000, which was a promising sign, but that annual revenue has since plummeted with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic with 2020’s portion totalling $188,957 and 2021’s sitting at $57,169 so far.
“If that trend continues, it’s going to make it more difficult for us to deliver on our affordable housing goals,” he said.
The MRDT is a 3 per cent tax paid for by guests staying at local resorts and hotels. About 0.2 per cent of that tax goes to the province leaving 2.8 per cent left, which currently goes into the budget of the town’s destination marketing organization, Tourism Tofino.
In a presentation last April, Scott had requested council support allocating roughly 12 per cent of those funds, equating to about 0.355 per cent of the 2.8 per cent tax, to the THC and he reminded council of that request during last week’s presentation.
A $4.6 million 14-unit apartment building at Sharp Road is set to become the corporation’s first completed affordable housing project with residents expected to begin moving in next spring and applications currently being accepted until Jan. 1, 2022.
Construction is set to start this month on a road leading into District Lot 114 in preparation for two apartment buildings containing 72 affordable rental units. The first building is currently slated for 35 units and is expected to cost roughly $10 million with tenants projected to begin moving in in 2023. Construction on the second 37-unit building is expected to kick off in the fall of 2024.
“In this next potential development cycle between 2022 and 2030, we’d be looking to focus a bit more towards that ownership segment while still developing additional rental housing,” Scott said.
He added the THC is looking for other available land and partnerships with the hopes of growing the corporation’s capacity into “a robust organization that can continue to develop new housing and can shift over time into a potential operator as well.”
He said the corporation has massively benefited from having free land to work with so far as the Sharp Road site, valued at roughly $420,000, and the DL114 site, valued at roughly $1.1 million, were both district-owned and were donated to the affordable housing pursuit.
“When you look at what we’ve accomplished to date, a key element has been that we’ve had free land to work with both at Creekside at Sharp Road as well as at DL114,” he said. “The land value means that we are able to basically stretch our resources further and deliver more units.”
There is room to develop more on DL114, though there has been some pushback from residents regarding how much development should occur beyond what’s already been allocated.
Scott suggested other areas for development will need to be identified as “all the evidence suggests that definitely more than the existing tranche of housing that THC is working on is going to be necessary.”
He said THC plans to spend about $40,000 to begin a master planning process in 2022 or 2023 that would look into more detailed environmental and topography work to identify potential development sites within DL114, but would need to know whether council has an appetite for further development in that area before moving forward.
“Obviously, if there’s zero interest in this work going forward from the majority of council, we need to have those conversations sooner before we start to spend money on environmental work and work by landscape architects and others to come up with those options,” he said.
“By the time we get to it in the spring or summer of next year, we need to have a shared understanding of a project scope that works so that we’re not spending money for no reason.”
Coun. Tom Stere asked if any other locations in town had been considered for potential development.
Scott responded that the THC had scanned the community for other appropriate district owned land, but that search came up empty.
“There really weren’t any other good options available,” he said.
Tofino mayor Dan Law suggested a “deeper level” conversation would need to happen at the council table to discuss further developing DL114 as well as whether it would be feasible to allocate general MRDT funds to the THC.