‘It’s a positive move’: Tla-o-qui-aht chief approves Tofino’s vote to restrict short-term rentals | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

‘It’s a positive move’: Tla-o-qui-aht chief approves Tofino’s vote to restrict short-term rentals

Tofino, BC

Tla-o-qui-aht Chief Councillor Elmer Frank says Tofino mayor and council made the right move to opt-in to B.C.’s new short-term rental (STR) regulations, despite being exempt as a resort community.

During a March 12 meeting, Tofino council discussed community housing concerns for over an hour before ultimately voting 5-2 in favour of Bill 35 - STR Accommodation Act, which seeks to regulate short-term rentals throughout the province by restricting services like Airbnbs to the host’s principal residence, plus one secondary suite or accessory dwelling unit on the property.

“I honestly think it’s a positive move for the outcome of trying to make Tofino sustainable,” said TFN chief Frank. “Take a look at the job market right now. There are so many jobs in Tofino that are open for applications, but along with those jobs there is no housing.”

He went on to share that business owners are required to create staff accommodations, and when those options are exhausted, many people opt to live in RV campgrounds.

“I’ve lived in Tofino all my life. Fifty years,” said Frank. “There’s been a large growth in the commercialization of housing and it’s been really pushing out a lot of the locals that used to live in Tofino, in terms of continuing to make Tofino affordable living.”

Prior to the March 12 vote, the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Tofino Mayor Dan Law and his council asking for more time.

“The board does not feel that members of the community – and certainly our organization – have had adequate time to consider the potential impacts, both positive and negative, that it could have on Tofino,” reads the letter dated Feb. 23. The District of Tofino, which operates on the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, received a total of 114 letters throughout the month-long community consultation process and about 54 per cent of participants did not want to opt-in to Bill 35, a staff report to council said.

“We felt like this needed a bit more time,” said Chamber President Laura McDonald. “(The decision to opt-in) certainly came as a surprise. It’s going to be interesting to see where it goes.”

McDonald emphasized that the chamber has been talking about housing and affordable homes for years and years. She was unsure how the new STR regulations would impact Tofino’s business community.

“I don’t know how we would measure the impact that this decision is going to have on business because there are so many things at play now for our business community,” she said.

Frank told the Ha-Shilth-Sa that it would be “very tough” for any Tla-o-qui-aht family who wants to live in the core of Tofino to find something suitable.

“It is going to affect some people definitely, like how they will be able to afford their mortgages, but more so in the long-term I think it’s going to be beneficial to continue to maintain the community atmosphere of being a Tofino local,” he said.  

“It’s a tough struggle for those that do want to become local and stay here and make this their home,” continued Frank. “We’ve always been welcoming and we’ve always wanted to be working with each other and to try to live with each other. Over the last 10 to 15 years things have changed. We still have that passion of doing that, but one of the main things we are missing is the local knowledge of each other, of who’s who. Back in the 1990s, we’d be able to drive by a certain vehicle and we’d know who it was. That’s changed.” 

Frank resides in the TFN community of Esowista, located on Long Beach about 15 minutes from Tofino. He said an economic development initiative submitted to Tofino’s former mayor and council over the 2014-2018 term to build housing on Tla-o-qui-aht-owned district lots was denied because of infrastructure.

“Not too long after that, we saw all these developments happen in Tofino when we’re told there’s no infrastructure; there’s no sewer, there’s no water. It frustrates us when we see all these other developments happening and puts a damper on our housing initiative,” said Frank.  

TFN is in the midst of negotiating with the Government of Canada to add about 90 more housing units within the next four years in the community of Ty-Histanis, adjacent to Esowista. Chief Councillor Frank said the Addition to Reserve is tied to reconciliation with Indigenous Services Canada.

“Canada is eager to come forward to the table and start negotiating with Tla-o-qui-aht,” he said. “There will have to be land and site prep with infrastructure needs. It’s a big highlight for us. It’s our continued goal to complete that Additions to Reserve.”

The province will be responsible for enforcing the new Principal Residence Requirement legislation, which takes effect for Tofino STR operators as of Nov. 1, 2024.

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