Red Gate Community Update: Sept 2022
Open Letter to the City of Vancouver
Cc. Mayor and Council, City Manager, Cultural Dept., Media
A Desperate Appeal From the Non-Profit Arts Sector.
Vancouver, regularly cited as one of the world's most unaffordable cities, has seen unprecedented increases in property values in the last decade, in many cases doubling, and then doubling again, and more, over that period. This has been difficult enough for arts groups to contend with as rental rates have increased accordingly. Yet the biggest single threat to our collective survival is the archaic and counter-productive "highest and best use" property tax regime in which arts organizations are forced to subsidize the new multi-storey developments, by paying property tax on the "development potential" of their buildings. This means, for example, that studio and rehearsal spaces in older one or two storey buildings are taxed at the same rate as adjacent newly constructed glass and steel towers, and must pay for the empty air space above their heads. For lease holders of older buildings, this amounts to a penalty of 50% or more on top of rent and other expenses, an enormous burden that has many of us in arrears and facing eviction, or barely managing to survive by laying off staff, reducing services, and slowly sinking into debt.
This is not a new situation, for many years we have been petitioning, meeting, participating in planning sessions, round tables and discussion groups, and been assured countless times that our message has been heard and that a solution to the issue was just around the corner. We've been hanging by our fingernails throughout this process, and yet despite all of the kind words and encouragement there has been no follow up, no action, and no improvement in the situation. Some of us have received emergency and operational funding from the scarce cultural funding available, but this is not a solution since we have been paying in many cases 3 or 4 times this amount back to the City in tax each year. It makes no sense for the City to be supporting arts groups on the one hand, and taxing them into oblivion on the other!
Enough is enough, time's up; there's no more slack in the system, no more room to maneuver, we need immediate relief or there will be nothing left to save. There will be nothing to show in the galleries, nothing to perform on the stages if there is no space to create it, to dream it and to build it. Without culture a city is just a collection of buildings, a fact recognized in the rhetoric of every organized political grouping across the spectrum, who always pledge their support but somehow never put it into practice. A collection of empty buildings will be all that is left of the city's arts sector if the current situation is allowed to continue. To repeat for emphasis: there won't be an arts sector in Vancouver for much longer if this crushing weight is not removed. It is completely within the power of civic elected officials to make this decision with a single resolution in Council.
For what may be the last time, we plead, beg, cajole, and implore the City of Vancouver to establish a zero-rated property tax for cultural non-profits, or provide a full rebate of property tax paid by such organizations that have remained in good standing and have completed or carried out all their planned programs and services in a given year. This is absolutely necessary to reverse the mass exodus of creative talent from Vancouver, and make our cultural organizations actually feel welcomed and supported beyond meaningless gestures and empty assurances. This policy could be implemented tomorrow, next week, or whatever is the soonest date that it can be brought to a vote. All that is lacking is the will to do so! Let's get this done!