Nanaimo city councillors are wondering if short-term rental tax revenue could be another funding source for a winter warming centre.
The question came up at a finance meeting Nov. 15, when city staff presented recommendations for allocating money raised through the online accommodation platform tax.
The maximum three-per cent tax levied on online sales of hotel rooms and other short-term rental accommodations is jointly administered by the provincial government and Destination B.C.
The City of Nanaimo – based on agreements with the province and tourism body – distributes a portion of the tax collected to finance affordable housing initiatives, such as to acquire, construct or renovate housing or shelter; to buy or improve land for housing or shelter; and other housing-related programs.
In her presentation to council, Lisa Brinkman, manager of community planning, reported that the city currently has nearly $590,000 in un-allocated online accommodation tax money and is expected to accumulate another $350,000 in 2024 for a total of nearly $940,000.
The staff report recommends setting aside $439,000 to buy land for affordable housing, $200,000 for continued support of the rent bank and rent supplement programs, and $300,000 for infrastructure and land improvements for social housing projects.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong asked if using some of the money to fund a winter warming shelter would fit within the province’s guidelines, and Brinkman replied that the guidelines specifically mention housing or shelter and could apply.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said the suggestion was “an interesting approach,” but might stretch the allocation guidelines beyond their intentions, since the term “shelter” might not necessarily mean a daytime warming centre.
Coun. Hilary Eastmure said she’d also like clarification about the idea.
“It may be a bit of a stretch, but we also do have local shelters that are struggling with renovation costs and things like that to be able to continue operating,” she said.
Coun. Janice Perrino said she just assumed, from reading the guidelines, warming shelters would be included.
Brinkman replied that the guidelines aren’t totally clear, “and Destination B.C. acknowledges that,” but staff could verify if warming shelters could be included for funding allocation.
Krog argued that the city staff allocation recommendations were sensible and should be accepted as presented.
“You can’t have affordable housing without land,” he said. “The rent bank and rent supplement programs have saved a lot of people from slipping out of housing … and the infrastructure for housing we’re required to provide in our work with B.C. Housing, I think, is a good use of the funds.”
Coun. Erin Hemmens also supported the staff recommendations, but also asked if guideline clarification could be made, so the funds could possibly be used to support a warming shelter over the 2024-25 winter season.
Coun. Paul Manly asked if more money could be allocated for rent supplements to help keep people housed.
“We’re just seeing more and more people who shouldn’t be out on the streets … We see there’s a growing need from the organizations that allocate the rent supplements. I’d like to see some more funds go towards that because I think it’s a really important aspect of how we deal with this in the community,” he said.
Dale Lindsay, the city’s chief administration officer, explained that staff recommendations were based on commitments that council has already made, either through agreements or memoranda of understanding. If money is shifted from those to new purposes, such as funding a warming shelter, that should be done as a separate allocation, he said, otherwise it would have to come from another city reserve fund.
“This is, in our mind, focused on things that we’re already committed to, but we’re absolutely happy to explore other things if council desired,” he said.
The allocations were unanimously accepted as recommended, and will appear as a consent item at regular council meeting Monday, Nov. 21.