Tofino will likely look to a consultant to help address its seasonal housing needs.
The consultant, who will be tasked with investigating temporary shelter options for Tofino’s summer season, will be paid $10,000 from the district’s economic development reserve.
Tofino’s council recently directed its staff to prepare a terms of reference for the position to present at Feb. 23’s regular meeting.
Coun. Dorothy Baert brought the idea to council and explained it came from the Community Economic Development Advisory Committee (CDAC). She said she was bringing it forward as a councillor because the committee did not have enough members at their last meeting to make an official request to council.
Baert said CDAC sees Tofino’s lack of seasonal housing as a threat to economic development.
“It’s specific to employment and business retention and attraction,” she said. “Definitely there was a sense around the table that the people were committing their volunteer time to actually see some results.”
She suggested the $10,000 consultant would work with local organizations, identify stakeholders and seek out funding opportunities for temporary seasonal housing options.
“We’re looking for someone who can devote their full attention to the project for a short period of time,” she said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster asked why the $10,000 consultant fee would come from the district’s economic development coffers rather than the affordable housing fund.
District CAO Bob MacPherson responded the affordable housing fund couldn’t handle it.
“I don’t believe there’s $10,000 in the affordable housing reserve anymore,” MacPherson said. “It’s incapable of funding this initiative.”
Coun. Greg Blanchette did not like the idea of divorcing affordable housing from seasonal housing.
“It might be hard to go back from that, in which case we may find ourselves running two different housing organizations in parallel,” he said. “We might be muddying the waters and making our lives difficult going forward unless we’re clear at this early stage just exactly what we’re doing.”
Mayor Josie Osborne doubted the consultant would have this effect.
“This is simply to kick start something and to bring together the right group of people and to make some kind of progress on seasonal worker housing,” she said. “It may grow or change or morph and incorporate other things too but, to my mind, it doesn’t necessarily lead us down any particular direction in terms of management.”
Blanchette was unconvinced. “A lot of our seasonal workers are people we want to be in affordable housing; they’re members of the community, they just work seasonally because that’s what’s available,” he said. “Is this aimed at the strictly seasonal workers or is it going to try to encompass the ones who live in town year-round but work seasonally as well?”
Baert responded the consultant’s focus would be on temporary shelters for summer workers.
“This is one [issue] that hopefully we can address and take off the table while we’re dealing with those other more long-term needs of affordable, accessible housing,” she said. “What we’re trying to address is getting people out of camping in the woods.”
She noted every councillor at the table had raised housing during their election campaigns.
McMaster said Tofino’s past efforts haven’t separated seasonal from affordable housing.
“I want to support the motion but I think we have to come up with better distinctions as to whether seasonal housing is part of our affordable housing plan or whether it’s completely separate,” he said.
“Not one member of council, in their election, actually mentioned seasonal housing specifically; they all mentioned affordable housing.”
Osborne said council was in a bind because CDAC had not reached quorum to properly present the idea to council and asked if Baert’s motion could be delayed to give the committee time to make an official request.
“I want to give this every chance for success,” she said. “If the motion comes on and is defeated, I don’t want that to send the wrong message to CDAC.”
Baert said such a delay could kill the committee’s momentum. “At this point people are motivated, they want to see this work done, they see a timeline where there are possibilities,” she said. Coun. Cathy Thicke, a member of CDAC, assured the committee was in favour of the motion despite the lack of quorum.
“It’s an incredibly busy, very dynamic, group of individuals who are very committed to just taking some steps,” she said adding seasonal housing is a critical need that a consultant could help address.
“It may not completely solve this issue but, I think, it’s a step in the right direction and there may be some tangible results that we can actually see.” Coun. Al Anderson expressed strong opposition to approving the motion without an official request from CDAC.
“That’s why I think it’s so unfair to that committee and all those volunteers the way this motion has been presented and brought forward completely without process,” he said adding other committee’s have had motions delayed due to process.
“Now, on something as critical as housing with such importance to council, we’re moving in a way that has a lot of risks involved. I mean, if it’s not supported by council at this moment we’re sending some message like were not supporting housing…I find it really disturbing and unfortunate the way this has come forward.”
Anderson asked how much money the district had in its economic development fund.
“We argue for hours and hours on spending $1,000 on something and yet we’re expected to make $10,000 available without process,” he said. Baert said the fund has roughly $50,000.
Thicke suggested delaying the motion wouldn’t kill CDAC’s momentum.
“Personally, I don’t think it will stall the energy of this movement within the committee,” she said. “It could make a difference, but I don’t think it’s going to make a great deal of difference.”
McMaster agreed with Blanchette and Anderson and suggested Baert had not made a strong case for the motion.
“I’m sorry but Coun. Baert the more you talk the more doubt you put in my mind,” he said.
Baert suggested a quick turnaround was important because of the looming busy season.
“February is, kind of, a fairly critical month because starting the middle of March we’re all back to work again…We still have a window of time but it just is a smaller window of time,” she said.
“I’ve said all I have to say because apparently I’m doing more damage to the cause than helping it.”
Council agreed to direct staff to present an outline for the consultant position at their next meeting.