By Andrew Stuckey
Destination Osoyoos is asking stakeholders to help nip a provincial initiative that would allow tourism tax dollars to be used to provide for affordable housing in the community.
The action comes after the provincial government included in its budget plan earlier this year an initiative that would allow Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) revenue collected by municipalities, regional districts and eligible entities to fund affordable housing initiatives.
“If we do not stop this, it certainly opens the door for many other allocated funding areas to be accessed at the will of government and would almost certainly impact our ability as a province and a community to continue to build and grow our most important economic driver, tourism,” writes Kelley Glazer, the organization’s executive director, in an email delivered to stakeholders Monday morning.
The email includes an attached form letter that stakeholders can “edit to their preference and support our efforts to ensure that MRDT is used only for the purposes” for which it was originally legislated.
The effort appears to be a province-wide initiative, Ms. Glazer noting “the tourism industry has banded together” and “has made numerous efforts to try and work with government to help them find other solutions to the affordable housing crisis OTHER THAN utilizing any portion of the MRDT.”
The letter is addressed to Carole James, the provincial finance minister, and requests that “Government not proceed with any proposed changes to the Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) as outlined in February’s budget.”
Currently, funds can only be used for tourism marketing, programs and projects.
The up-to-three percent tax, which was introduced in 1987, is applied to sales of short-term accommodations and is intended to “help grow BC revenues, visitation and jobs, and amplify BC’s tourism marketing efforts in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” according to Destination BC.
“Destination Osoyoos does not support the use of MRDT for ANYTHING OTHER THAN what the original legislation allows for,” wrote Ms. Glazer in an email delivered this afternoon.
That proscription appears to include providing resources to help accommodate staff who relocate to the community for the summer months.
“As for as temporary staff housing, that is an unrelated issue and at this time we have reason [to] believe there will be some information in the near future on dealing with that challenge locally.”
The tax is administered by the provincial government, which annually returns the local portion collected to local municipalities.
In 2017, the Town of Osoyoos received $431,110.17 in MRDT funding from the province. The full amount was granted to Destination Osoyoos.
But Osoyoos councillor Jim King, who sits on the Destination Osoyoos board as a municipal representative, said he would consider using some of the MRDT resource to help fund affordable housing in the community.
“The Town could use (MRDT funding) for affordable housing if it chooses,” he said. “I would say I would support using some of the money for affordable housing.”
Coun. Mike Campol agrees that funding is needed to house temporary workers — and to provide for affordable housing in the community — but wondered if that effort might be better served with Resort Municipality Initiative funding.
“I think the MRDT should be left alone and we need to look at expanding what the RMI could be used for,” he said.
“The residents in the area who don’t work in the industry, which is a lot, all have a feeling that everything we do is for tourists.” he said. “If we start looking at affordable housing projects as a resort municipality, that benefits everybody.”
He added, however, that funding for housing needs is becoming critical.
“If we don’t start figuring out how to deal with staff housing and affordable housing, I don’t know what we’re marketing any more,” he said. “Every employer in town is begging for staff.”