Capital News files Dianne Varga is co-chair of the Renters United Kelowna advocacy group.

Kelowna short-term rental guidelines cause backlash

Two new rental advocacy groups emerge

It began as one person voicing objections to a short-term rental marketing blitz by The Mission Group to sell units in its new Brooklyn development.

And now that protest started online last week by Dianne Varga has evolved into the formation of two new groups advocating for Kelowna to become a livable city for all socio-economic levels, focusing on the need to provide long-term affordable housing rental options, and how they might play a role in the upcoming civic election.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, the Brooklyn rezoning application was adopted by council, although several councillors cited an awareness about the short-term rental implications for the city’s commercial zoning designations, which the Brooklyn project falls under.

The Brooklyn is a proposed 178-unit residential development on St. Paul Street in downtown Kelowna.

Related: Short-term rental loophole raises concerns

Varga pointed out that The Mission Group’s advertisements for the project present it as an opportunity for investor homebuyers to generate short-term rental revenue.

“The ability to offset the cost of your investment by renting it when you please is a game changer,” said Randall Shier, president of the Mission Group, in a press release.

“First-time homebuyers and working professionals will love the flexibility offered by the option of earning money while they are away from home.”

Varga was one of 11 people voicing their objections to the Brooklyn proposal, expressing how encouraging short-term rental investors into the marketplace will only place more pressure on the current low-vacancy, long-term rental market.

But she felt going in council wouldn’t be swayed because the project falls within the existing c-zone guideline short-term rental loophole.

Related: Kelowna to consider allowing short-term rentals

“The approval was unanimous and disappointing to see, but not completely surprising,” Varga said.

“But we were able to establish a strong dialogue that hopefully more in the community will support…It’s a matter of justice for long-term renters.”

Varga and Kelly Hutchinson have now co-founded Renters United Kelowna, a group working towards renters’ protection, housing availability and housing affordability.

“Of immediate concern to Renters United is the City of Kelowna’s plan to allow short-term rentals in all mixed use commercial zones of the city,” said the group’s statement on its Facebook page.

“Just as important is the related fact that the city has failed to recognize long-term renters as stakeholders in the conversation about short-term rentals. We intend to lobby to be a voice at the table once regulations are drafted and public consultation is sought, and to campaign strenuously for short-term rentals to be restricted to principal residences only.”

Varga said her group is hoping to see or convince potential candidates to run for council who put affordable housing at the top of their campaign promise wishlists.

She said one candidate, Loyal Wooldridge, who has taken out nomination papers and previously announced his intention to run for Kelowna council, has already made contact with them.

Also seeking to find an online audience of support is the newly formed Kelowna People’s Alliance, seeking to increase coordination and civic participation in issues of common good for the city, from affordable housing and environmental sustainability to realistic transit options and vibrant artistic and creative expression.

Among this group’s commitments is to recognize and advance the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and recognize unceded Syilx territory.

“We believe every person in Kelowna should be able to thrive, connect with others and contribute to a caring, vibrant, sustainable city,” said KPC statement posted on their Facebook page.

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