By JACK ROSEN
I have lived on Salt Spring for 30 years and have never written a Viewpoint to the paper. I have kept my values and beliefs private, but as a business owner I really feel I can’t keep silent on this issue and watch the economy of the island crumble.
A witch hunt has begun for short-term vacation rentals and the people in our community who are providing accommodations for our tourists are being targeted by the Islands Trust. Everyone, including business owners, is keeping silent.
Short-term vacation rentals on the island is a very complicated issue that needs examination.
Let’s examine how we make our income on Salt Spring. We are a seasonal tourist-based economy. I have had to take out lines of credit to make it through the lean months with my former Island Escapades retail store and eco-tourism business, not wanting to close my doors and put my staff out of work. I now run a new eco-tourism business that would suffer without accommodations other than B&Bs and our hotels/motels being available.
Tourism is not a dirty word, it is actually a very clean industry if managed properly, and it can help finance low-income housing with the new Municipal and Regional District Tax program and the eight per cent provincial sales tax on accommodations.
Without STVRs, our Saturday market vendors, restaurants, grocery stores and home-based businesses will see declines. We actually will not need as much lower-income housing as there will be less employment available. You cannot cut off the hand that feeds you and without tourism the economy on Salt Spring is in trouble.
It is time for business owners to be more vocal about a bylaw that is outdated. The witch hunt for vacation rentals needs to stop until we see changes in the bylaw. If you are not living on a property, vacation rentals should not be allowed as there is no one to manage noise and overuse of water, etc. Tourists need to be educated by property owners on how to be mindful about our resources and this cannot be done when an owner is absent.
People who provide low-income housing such as rooms, cabins and trailers during winter months should be regulated as well so that these accommodation owners don’t kick out longer-term tenants for short-term Airbnb gains in high-season months.
Regulations are needed for low-income illegal housing. We also need to revisit the Residential Tenancy Act so that island owners are not afraid to rent for the long term as well.
I urge business owners to speak up, and for Saturday market vendors to see the whole issue and understand the economics that will directly affect small businesses and farmers.
The writer owns Coastal Current Adventures and is a long-time Salt Spring Island resident.