Tofino’s ghost haunted a housing meeting about Airbnb-style rentals in Queen Charlotte last Monday night.
The island town shares some of Haida Gwaii’s ocean charms, but Tofino’s upswell of tourists and house prices can be a bit of a scare story here.
Still, several owners who rent out Queen Charlotte homes on Airbnb said they don’t fear a Tofino-level tourism surge will happen on Haida Gwaii.
Village councillors are considering a bylaw that, among other zoning changes, would restrict Airbnb-style rentals to properties where an owner or long-term renter is living.
The changes are a response to a recent housing-needs study for Queen Charlotte that suggested regulating short-term vacation rentals so they don’t cut into the long-term rental stock.
“We’re not Tofino,” said Heather DuDoward, who started renting to visitors through Airbnb after 25 mostly money-losing years of renting to long-term tenants.
DuDoward said she has lived on island long enough to see the population dwindle along with lost fishing and forestry jobs, and suggested that should take pressure off the housing market.
Robert DuDoward agreed, and said the village’s ageing housing stock, not Airbnb, is the real culprit behind an apparent lack of long-term rental options.
“There’s always been a housing crisis,” he said. “It’s just that you’ve got a few people squawking away and it’s getting all this attention.”
Janine North, who promotes islands tourism through Go Haida Gwaii and also rents out a home on Airbnb, said that unlike Tofino, most people here would never trust an off-island corporation to manage their local rentals.
North said one reason for the perceived lack of housing options in Queen Charlotte is that several people don’t declare their income, making it hard to build a credit rating and get a mortgage.
“If they would declare their income, they would be in a better position financially to purchase a home,” she said. “I think that the homes in Queen Charlotte are very affordable.”
Given how much of the village’s tax revenue comes from residential rather than industrial or commercial areas, North suggested council should be careful not to discourage investment in residential renovations and construction.
The meeting last week was for public input only, so Mayor Greg Martin and councillors were mostly just listening in.
But with the proposed bylaw, councillors have already said they aren’t banning Airbnbs, but striking a balance between encouraging islanders to get in the tourism business and leaving enough rental options that people can find a place to live.
Sheila Gordon, who has made short-term vacation rentals her key job, said she can see both sides of the issue and agrees with most of council’s proposed changes.
Those changes may eventually include a requirement to get a business licence, have parking set aside for visitors, and avoid setting up short-term rentals in industrial areas, apartments, public buildings, or areas zoned for natural-resource management.
“I think we should be legit, pay our own share,” Gordon said. “I agree with licensing, regulating parking, enforcement officers, et cetera.”
“But not long ago, the push was on to encourage locals to find ways to accommodate tourists,” she added. “Some of us rose to the call. We started amazing businesses, helping to stabilize a dwindling economy and improve the condition of the aging housing stock.”
“If I was forced to switch over to long-term rentals, I could never recover financially.”
Mayor Martin thanked everyone who spoke at the meeting, noting that there will be several more meetings before council comes to a final decisions on the proposed bylaw.
First, a select committee on business licensing has to make its recommendations to council, and then the bylaw will have to go through three readings before it is adopted.