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Nick Jacquet, owner of Tofino Travellers Guesthouse, says Tofino ‘desperately needs social housing, desperately needs short-term housing for the summer months and desperately needs housing for young families.’

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Pascale Froment left her house in Tofino last month to move with her fiancé and baby into a trailer in an empty lot she'd purchased nearby. She didn't sell her home; instead, she opened it for staff at the surf shop and school her family has owned for more than three decades.

Ms. Froment didn't really have a choice. Her workers had nowhere to live. "This year was something we had never seen before," she said. "It's been harder and harder for people to find accommodation and we got to the point that we weren't able to hire anybody."

Housing isn't a new problem in Tofino, B.C., a surfing hot spot and close-knit community of about 2,000 people on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The issue flares up every summer, when much of the district's long-term housing is listed as short-term rentals for the influx of tourists, leaving seasonal workers with nowhere affordable to stay.

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"Now it's actually desperate," Ms. Froment said. She will likely be looking to hire more staff as the season peaks in July and August, but she's been getting résumés from people who are either camping or don't have a place to stay.

At a recent council meeting there was talk of easing restrictions for those who wanted to live in vehicles, making it legal for them to do so on private property. The idea was that it would help deal with seasonal shortages temporarily.

But Mayor Josie Osborne doesn't think that's the fix. "I don't think that is an acceptable way for people to live – in a unit that is designed for temporary accommodation," she said.

"Tofino council is really struggling, along with the local business community, to deal with the lack of seasonal staff accommodation."

Ms. Osborne acknowledges her community has a housing problem, but she concedes that's not going to change this summer. Instead, she's looking for long-term solutions, though she says that will require some extra help.

"We know that the federal and provincial government need to be partners in this," Ms. Osborne said. "Without that, there is no way a municipality can do this on its own."

BC Housing said it recognizes that housing is a pressing issue around the province, and is currently taking proposals from municipalities to develop affordable and social housing units. In an e-mail sent to The Globe, it encouraged Tofino to apply. It said that this year, the province has committed $355-million to create 2,000 affordable rental housing units across the province.

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"There are no magic bullets for this problem, in any community," Ms. Osborne said. "We need to work together to figure out the solutions that make the most sense and try them out."

Ms. Osborne looks to Whistler as a place that has learned by trial and error.

Faced with similar problems, the town created the Whistler Housing Authority in 1997. The agency, which has a goal of ensuring 75 per cent of the town's work force lives in Whistler, oversees development and manages an inventory of housing that only locals are permitted to own or rent. Whistler's mayor says the town has surpassed its goal but still faces housing challenges.

In Tofino, short-term rentals through Airbnb may be magnifying the problem. Ms. Osborne said units that would otherwise be used as long-term housing are being rented out for short-term rentals, which contributes to Tofino's overall lack of supply.

In March, Tofino hired a firm to look into online rental websites, including Airbnb, to help determine how many unlicensed rentals were operating in the district. Tofino will start fining those without a permit in 2017.

On the other hand, Ms. Osborne said Airbnb can also be a source of income that allows people to make enough money to stay in town, subsidizing the cost of living at a time when real estate prices are high.

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"[Tofino] desperately needs social housing, desperately needs short-term housing for the summer months and desperately needs housing for young families," said Nick Jacquet, who runs the Tofino Travellers Guesthouse. He does some of his bookings through Airbnb. His place offers budget accommodation and homemade waffles, but even then, he's had a guest recently leave to rent out a trailer to be able to afford to stay in town.

"We just need to provide," said Mr. Jacquet. "If we are going to constantly ask for more and more tourism in Tofino then we will have to provide and plan for people to come here."

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