Cortes Island first in B.C. to charge short-term rental tax for new housing

Cortes Island first in B.C. to charge short-term rental tax for new housing

It truly is getting away from it all when you arrive on Cortes Island, and as more vacationers come here the demand for short term rentals is increasing.

That’s one of the reasons why long term rentals for residents are almost impossible to find now.

“Ah it’s crazy, it’s nuts. There are no rentals,” said long time resident Rick Bockner. “There are people who have to leave their places in the summer when the tourists start coming.”

A recent housing survey found 10 per cent of the Cortes Island population, or 159 people, were living in either unstable or unsuitable housing, meaning it is too expensive, or may even be without proper washrooms or running water.

“And that’s women and children, a real cross section of the community, including our own fire chief who can’t find housing right now and has been struggling for the last two years to find permanent housing,” said Mark Vonesch, the area director for the Strathcona Regional District.

Fire Chief Eli McKenty is just one example of the island trying to recruit professionals to a place where there’s nowhere to live.

“Housing is a huge consideration because even if you find a qualified person to move here there’s nowhere for them to live,” stated McKenty.

And buying a place to live isn’t an option for most people either.

“Because we’re a tourist community, purchasing prices, according to the housing survey, the average was $794,000 a listing while the average person on Cortes can afford $209,000,” added Vonesch

SEE ALSO: Short-term rentals cost Victoria renters an extra $1K per year, council to consider tightening restrictions

However, community leaders on Cortes are now doing something in an attempt to address the problem, that so far, is unique in B.C.

Since July 1, a three per cent tax has been charged on stays at short-term rentals like AirBnB’s, money that will go towards building rental housing on the island.

“We expect to raise between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, which obviously isn’t going to build the housing, but it gives us a competitive advantage when we’re applying for grants showing we have some revenue built into the model, and there’s a political will to make that happen,” said Vonesch.

There is already a 24-unit housing complex planned if some of that extra funding is approved.

“Sixteen of those units are below market and eight of those units are for professionals in the community, doctors and nurses who are also struggling to find housing when they’re here,” Vonesch said.

He says the tax isn’t an attack on short-term rentals but a move to take advantage of how popular they are while still allowing the homeowners to make money, which in many cases is necessary for them to be able to afford the property.

“I don’t think there’s one thing that is the problem,” he added. “Yes, AirBnB’s have contributed to it but they’re also an important part of our economy,” said Vonesch. “I’m not looking to ban them but I think we need to look at some smart regulation, but the biggest thing we need to do is incentivize the market to create rental housing and build government funded housing as well.”

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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