Whistler Chamber tackles housing at BC Chamber AGM 

Province urged to sell or lease Crown land for affordable housing in resort areas

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Chamber chums Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace, right, with Colleen Clark, executive director of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.
  • photo submitted
  • Chamber chums Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace, right, with Colleen Clark, executive director of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.

Two policy resolutions drafted by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce aimed, in part, at making it easier for local employees to secure affordable housing, passed at the BC Chamber of Commerce AGM last month.

The first policy proposal calls for the provincial government to sell or lease Crown land to developers below market rates in order to build affordable employee accommodation in resort areas.

"We're basically encouraging (the province) to look for solution alternatives," explained Whistler Chamber CEO Melissa Pace. "We know housing is a big issue all over British Columbia and it's resulting in additional labour shortages, businesses shortening their hours, and in a lot of cases, closing their doors. The impact of a lack of accommodation is massively affecting even the tax revenue in B.C."

The resolution points to how "most ski resorts in B.C. are on land designated as Controlled Recreation Areas (CRA)," public land that was leased to developers. "Once these lands are in a Controlled Recreation Area, the developer often has the right to buy these public lands at a price far below market value for real estate developments."

The draft recommends that the province create a process to assess Master Development Plans and grant housing authorities options to purchase or lease Crown land for rent- and resale-controlled employee housing. It's also asking that Victoria set the price for purchase of Crown land similar to rates (roughly $5,000 per hectare) considered for the Master Development Plans that have historically governed land that falls within a CRA.

The policy also recommends the province work with local officials to create housing authority or public-private partnerships to lease Crown land for employee housing in resort communities where such agreements don't already exist.

"Our sense is that this will be well received (by the province)," said Dan Baxter, director of policy development for the BC Chamber of Commerce. "Obviously the new provincial government is very focused on housing affordability—it's one of the key things they got elected on. So hopefully a creative solution, especially in our resort communities, (can be found)."

The second draft policy authored by the Whistler Chamber asks that real estate be excluded from a passive asset tax for private corporations that was introduced last year as part of Ottawa's corporate tax overhaul.

The federal government's intent was to close existing tax loopholes by limiting the amount of income that can be earned from passive investments. The current rules cap the amount of passive income a corporation can earn in a year before losing its dividend refund at $50,000 (a five-per-cent return on a $1-million investment), a threshold the Chamber argues is too low and one which also discourages businesses from investing in housing for their employees.

"I think what the Whistler Chamber is trying to get at here is that, for those businesses that have decided to invest in real estate, whether as a business strategy to help weather a downturn, or because they want to have the option at one point to rent it out to a potential employee, $1 million doesn't get you anything," Baxter said. "And if it's a long-term investment strategy for your retirement, most rental income will be more than $50,000, so the numbers just don't line up in terms of using that as an investment strategy."

Both proposed policies passed with at least two-thirds support at the AGM, which was held in Kamloops from May 24 to 26. Now, the BC Chamber will take the resolutions to the applicable provincial or federal ministers for consideration.

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce is encouraging chamber members to register for MindReader, a province-wide digital network that allows the BC Chamber to pull real-time information and data from members on business issues and policy in B.C.

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