Kelowna city councillors struck down a controversial motion that would’ve seen some funds earmarked for affordable housing moved to assist the struggling tourism industry on Monday night (July 13).
The report called for the online accommodation platform (OAP) revenue reserve, a tax pot that collected from short-term rental organizations like Airbnb, to be split in two for 2021 — 50 per cent to affordable housing and 50 per cent to Tourism Kelowna, rather than 100 per cent towards housing as council had previously decided.
The split was suggested due to revenue losses amid empty rooms at local hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic — and further expected struggles in the tourism industry through next year.
Council quashed the motion by a vote of 5-3. Mayor Colin Basran, as well as Councillors Gail Given and Brad Sieben — who sit as council’s representative and alternate representative on the Tourism Kelowna Board — were the lone votes for. Coun. Maxine DeHart recused herself from the vote as she works in the tourism industry.
Basran said splitting the OAP wouldn’t have any effect on the city’s ability to acquire land for affordable housing projects, clarifying that the city’s affordable housing projects are always partnerships — usually with BC Housing.
“If BC Housing comes knocking tomorrow, and says we have an opportunity, I have every confidence we would be able to find a way to purchase that property to move a project forward,” Basran said.
Several of his councillors felt differently, however.
“In my opinion, once the direction is changed, we will never get it back. That’s why I think we should stay the course as long as we can because I think this will help build a foundation we need for the longer term,” said Coun. Luke Stack. He continued by saying that they need to show industry partners like BC Housing that they are committed to issues like affordable housing.
“Now that the money is in the pocket of affordable housing, I struggle philosophically to bring it back out,” said Coun. Ryan Donn.
City council did largely agree on helping “short-haul” tourism move forward immediately, supporting an advance of the monthly funds it was already set to send Tourism Kelowna for the rest of the year in a lump sum amounting around $143,500.
Tourism Kelowna plans to use those funds to market towards local, regional, provincial and Western Canadian audiences.
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