The bed in a small room

BC Government approves 3% tax on Cortes Island short term rentals

On May 16, Mark Vonesch, Regional Director for Cortes Island issued a press release stating, “I’m excited to let you know that the provincial government has approved Cortes Island’s short term rental tax application. Starting on July 1st, tourists will pay an extra 3% on their short term rental bookings and the funds will be collected by the provincial government and sent to the Cortes Housing Society on a monthly basis to contribute to the development of Rainbow Ridge rental housing.”

“This is the first time in BC history that a community is using the tax entirely for housing and the provincial government had to amend their legislation to make it possible.”

Regional Directors Mark Vonesch, Robyn Mawhinney and Gerald Whalley (who advised Vonesch on how to apply) – Photo by Mark Vonesch

The application was made by the Cortes Community Housing Society, whose Executive Director Sandra Wood explained, “The issue has been that once a place becomes discovered by tourists,  a lot of homes and cottages that used to be providing year round rental accommodation to locals become part of the Airbnb or other vacation rental sites. The owners of those properties can make more money from tourism rentals than they can from long-term rentals to locals.That has created a shortage of housing on Cortes and many other islands.”

According to the ‘Collecting Stories of Where We Live Survey,’ last Spring, at least 159 Cortes Island residents were either living in ‘unstable’ conditions, or homeless. 

The Strathcona Housing Needs Assessment found that 150 Cortes households are paying more for rent or mortgages than they can afford. 

Vonesch wrote that the housing crisis was one of the big challenges that led to his decision to run for the position of Regional Director.  

“We need to figure out ways for the free market to offer up more rentals and support development that makes land affordable for young people and families who are currently renting and can’t afford to compete with tourist land prices.”

One of his first acts, as incoming Regional Director for Cortes Island last November, was to seek SRD support for an application for a 3% tax on short term rentals

“This is a tax that  affects all short term rentals on Cortes, whether you do that through Airbnb or other online platforms, or you rent your place out privately. It also applies to the ‘hotels’ on Cortes, which are the Gorge Harbour Marina, the Cortes Island Motel and Hollyhock. In order for this application to be submitted, you need at least 50% support from the ‘hotels’ on the island. We were really fortunate to have Hollyhock, the Gorge and the Motel all sign on. Part of my argument to the Regional District is, ‘Look, there’s the support from 100% of all the ‘hotels’ on Cortes!” 

The new SRD Vice Chair, Ron Kerr, was enthusiatic about the project, “I think this is an opportunity to really show what this board can do and not drag things on, but try and move them forward.”

Incoming Area C Director Robin Mawhinney agreed, “I love it. I wanted to add that I believe that the Cortes Island Housing Society is doing great work. They have land, a plan and community support. I fully support this community initiative. I think it’s an inspiration and a model, and I believe that a letter of support from the board fits within our Strathcona Regional District vision statement, which is to lend support to individual community initiatives.”

At their inaugrial meeting, on November 9, 2023, the SRD Board unanimously voted to write the letter of support which accompanied the Cortes Community Housing Society’s application to the provincial government.

Vonesch’s press release explains that, “For short term rental operators using AirBnB or VRBO, this tax will automatically be collected by the online platform when customers book their stay, so there is no action required from you. For those not using these online platforms, and making more then $2,500 from their short term rental, you must register to collect PST and MRDT.”

Links of Interest:

Top image credit: Bedroom in an AirBnB – Photo by Geremy F via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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