A proposal for a new tax to assist with costs related to providing affordable housing in the Cowichan Valley Regional District will go to a referendum during the municipal elections in October.
The CVRD’s board decided not to make a final decision on the proposal at its meeting on June 13 until the public has weighed in on the issue.
The tax, which would be assessed through an annual property value tax of $4.58 per $100,000 of assessed value, would raise approximately $765,000 per year.
The money would be managed by the Cowichan Housing Association to leverage and attract funding from the federal and provincial governments to build affordable housing.
Sierra Acton, the director for Shawnigan Lake, said she has never seen so much correspondence against an issue come to her in all her short time as the representative for Area B.
“I think we do have a role to play here, but I don’t think this strategy has been explored enough at this time,” she said.
“I have learned in my time as a director that it takes time to find solutions to issues like this. The more collaboration and discussions we have, the better outcome we will have.”
North Cowichan’s Al Siebring, who was representing the absent director Kate Marsh at the table, said he received more than 6,500 comments on the issue on his social website in just one week, with 95 per cent of respondents stating they were against the tax.
He said most people who responded don’t believe local governments should be involved in homelessness issues.
“Everyone wants something done, but nobody wants to pay for it,” Siebring said. “I recognize that we do have an affordable housing problem in the Valley and we have a responsibility to help deal with it. I would be in favour of putting it to a referendum.”
Director Aaron Stone, who represents Ladysmith, said that when all the directors were elected, that meant they were given the responsibility of making difficult decisions on behalf of their constituents.
“A referendum is a means to take those difficult decisions on behalf of the communities that we represent away from us,” he said. “I hope this board will move forward and make this decision.”
The vote to defer the issue to a public referendum was passed, with directors Stone, Cobble Hill’s Matteus Clement and North Oyster/Diamond’s Mary Marcotte opposed.
Board chairman Jon Lefebure said it’s clear that many in the community are opposed to the new tax, so the board chose holding a referendum as the best way forward.
But he said the evidence proves that establishing the tax to have funding to leverage further funding to deal with homelessness in the Valley is the best way forward.
Lefebure said he has talked to local businesses that have said they want to expand and hire new workers, but there is nowhere for them to live.
“The funding from the tax would be an investment that could see us receive large sums of money from senior levels of government to deal with the issue,” he said.
“Victoria has managed to leverage $60 million in funding from senior levels of government for a $90 million housing program by having their own money to invest as well. We can stand aside and do nothing while other jurisdictions move forward with their own programs, or we can agree to contribute a small amount of money into our community.”