Letter to the editor

As much as short-term rental (STR) owners say their properties support economic development, the truth is they don’t – well, they don’t beyond their own personal economic development as a small business.

Small businesses are great. But small businesses that eliminate long-term housing stock are not so great.

Yes, single family home properties can earn an owner over $100,000 per year as an STR. But do you know what else would bring in $100,000/year to our community?  A household of year-round local employees and income earners. STRs actually inhibit economic development for the broader community as each STR property displaces a household of workers that would be both earning and spending locally.

Currently, and with the proposed STR bylaw, Invermere council is choosing to short our community a reasonable supply of long-term housing (many of those STRs that once were occupied by local families). As outlined in a recent edition of the Pioneer, you’re paying tax dollars for recruiting for jobs that our community can’t keep because we cannot house those who move here. It appears there is no unified, strategic plan to address the housing crisis and attract new residents. The mayor’s task force on housing is in place but council has crafted policy that makes long-term rental housing financially unattractive. We seem to have a council bound and bent on making a balanced housing market impossible and a reasonable supply of long-term rental housing unobtainable. Invermere’s 2021 Housing Needs Assessment outlines a 145-unit shortfall of housing, where two-thirds of businesses said housing is a challenge for staffing.

With hundreds of STRs and an identified shortfall of housing, the answer seems painfully obvious.

The wild west treatment of STRs has perverted the housing situation so much that there is no current interest in Invermere from hotel developers. Too many STRs undercut the business case for an additional hotel. Simultaneously, STRs contribute to over tourism as more will become available during peak seasons, creating service failure in our downtown, our beaches, parks and on our streets.

You have all seen the properties sit vacant at the east end of 13th Street for decades (albeit for one day of the year when a small portion of that land is used for bull riding). A jewel of downtown Invermere, centrally located and with stunning views, is not much more than dusty vacant land, earning very little revenue and none through economic activity. Imagine 100 fewer STRs, by requiring the licensed STRs to be a secondary suite or an accessory dwelling unit (like the rest of BC will be doing on May 1) and owner-occupied in the community and suddenly the financial viability of this “comprehensive development zone” becomes much more appealing to resort developers.

Resort developers don’t have to be from a publicly traded company. And builders don’t have to be from another province. Invermere has the capital, expertise and workforce to do this with a combination of local firms. Think Fogo Island Inn.

But those 100 new hotel rooms would make an immense impact in the occupancy and sustainability of our public assets (like the arena and Columbia Valley Centre, which costs local taxpayers over $1.5 million every year). 

If you don’t want to have a downtown so quiet in the fall and spring that business owners choose to shut down for weeks at a time, then you want events to be booked in your community assets that you’re paying for year-round.  Downtown hotel development would provide reason for downtown retailers to open after 5 p.m. or have restaurants open every day of the week, year-round – not just in July and August.

In the end, you could have 100-plus STRs eating up long-term housing units or you could have a new hotel, a vibrant, year-round downtown, and 200-plus local workers (assuming two workers per housing unit). But you can’t have both. And that’s why the District of Invermere council needs to revise their draft STR bylaw immediately.

Yes, there are many items that have to be weighed with this issue. There are 100-plus STR operators and their exorbitant profits they have been able to make in the unregulated past who will be impacted. There are residents and businesses that can’t, and won’t, find housing or staff or both.

If council continues to ignore the needs of the community, resident families and businesses who require workers and they pass this STR bylaw, then I urge resident families and businesses to make their voices heard in the next election and bring in a council that will do what is best for the community.

C. Bakos, Invermere