Pubs, restaurants and other service-related businesses looking to provide affordable living spaces for their workers might want to talk to local hotels about sharing accommodation taxes collected in the community, suggests the riding’s MLA.
“They should; I think they should,” said MLA Linda Larson following a meeting with Town of Osoyoos Council this morning. “It’s where all (the hotel and resort) patrons go while they’re here.”
Ms. Larson was responding to questions about the Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) — a tax of up to three percent on the purchase of accommodation imposed in Osoyoos and other specific geographic areas of the province on behalf of municipalities, regional districts or eligible entities.
The MRDT program raises revenue for local tourism marketing, programs and projects.
But affordable housing — especially for tourism sector workers — was added as a permissible use of funds in 2018.
“I don’t like to mess with programs too much, especially if they’re successful,” Ms. Larson said, suggesting the impetus for a change that would use some of the local funding to provide for worker housing should not come from the government
“(However) I think if the hotels take a vote and want to change it and agree to do that, that’s up to them.”
She then added it would make sense for other tourism-related and service businesses to lobby the accommodation sector for that change, although she wasn’t sure how successful that effort might be.
“They could try and get together, but as you know there’s a lot of rollover in owners and businesses constantly. So you no sooner get a group of people that are all of one mind and then they change again.”
Ms. Larson attend Osoyoos Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting to speak to council on behalf of small businesses in the community struggling to fill positions.
“There’s lots of people who would love to come to work in these areas over the summer months because it’s a fabulous place to work,” she explained. “But there’s no place for them to stay. And if you have to put out — in monthly rent for a motel room or whatever it might be — as much as you’re making, you’re not really getting ahead.”
Later in the same meeting, Kelley Glazer, Executive Director of Destination Osoyoos — the designated entity responsible for collecting and administering local MRDT funding — said her organization expects to reap about $600,000 annually as it moves to collecting a three percent accommodations tax.
That’s about $200,000 more than the Town of Osoyoos has collected annually for its destination marketing organization over the last couple of years with the rate at two percent.
Ms. Larson told Council a meeting with a delegation of “some of the pub owners and so on” brought to her attention the level of difficulty small businesses in the community are having filling jobs.
She specifically spoke about a housing unit erected by local accommodators on Osoyoos Indian Band east of Osoyoos.
“They did not appear to be very happy with the accommodation that did end up being built,” she told Council. “Apparently it was not as pleasant inside as it should be — or as they thought it should be — and (there are not) enough (units).”
Mayor Sue McKortoff agreed the community has a problem with housing — especially during the summer months as the Town’s population grows to 15,000 and seasonal workers flood the region.
“I know there are several restaurants and businesses who have either purchased a hotel unit and rented it out or they’ve purchased a condo,” she said. “One has purchased a house and I believe there is room for four people to be in there.
“Businesses are looking at how they can provide accommodations for their workers. And that needs to be part of the solution for sure.”