I was disappointed to see that no one on Council would second Councillor Blanchette’s motion to provide the Valemount Affordable Rentals Society (VARS) a 50% Permissive Tax Exemption. I was puzzled to hear that Councillor Pearson moved that the Society get no tax exemption because “they are running as a business.” If “running as a business” is the criteria for turning down societies for the Permissive Tax Exemption, I would question why any of the tax exemptions were granted. For example, the Legion, which received a 75% tax exemption, operates a bar, restaurant, and facility rentals – sounds like “running as a business” to me. Business operations contribute to the survival of many non-profit societies. Profits are put back into the society to support its mandate rather than going into shareholders’ pockets, as they would with a private business.
Councillor Pearson also said that VARS “seems to be renting at market value or close to”. Generating enough rental revenues to cover costs even at Valemount’s market rental rates is not easy – that’s why private investors are building vacation homes, not rental properties. VARS receives no operating subsidies, but keeps the rents as low as possible while still covering its costs. A Permissive Tax Exemption would have made it less of a struggle to do so.
The rental housing shortage in Valemount is no secret. Locals are stuck living in unsuitable premises because they can’t get anything else, and employers can’t get prospective employees to move to the area because they can’t find housing. Council has obviously been aware of this problem as far back as 2016 when it hired a consultant to conduct a “Housing Needs and Demands Assessment”, and more recently with the formation of a Housing Committee. This year, that Committee completed the “Valemount Affordable Housing Demand Survey.” In the meantime, the Valemount Affordable Rentals Society has taken concrete steps to help address the housing shortage. With only three hard-working Board Members (July Holmin, Riette Kenkel and Korie Marshall), it has already brought eight new housing units on stream and is in the planning stage for the construction of a new building with affordable and subsidized housing units.
I would be happy to see my tax dollars being used for a Permissive Tax Exemption to a non-profit society that is providing solutions to a well-documented, community-wide problem. It is a better use of funds than paying Village staff members and consultants to continue discussing and studying the issue.