AIRBNB description: “Hello! My name is [privacy protected] and I spend my time … near the ocean, just outside of Los Angeles, California. I also work in Vancouver, BC. After having stayed at various places as a guest through airBnb … I am now making my Vancouver apartment available when I am traveling. We do travel a lot ….Wonderful one bedroom on the 18th floor of a brand new modern style building in the highly desirable West End of Vancouver. 15 minutes walk to downtown or to Stanley Park, 10 minutes to the water. A cozy comfy place for distinguished guests…Large windows provide view towards Stanley Park and North…$100CAD per night, $700CAD/week…This apartment is conveniently located, in a brand new building…If you have a car, parking is available on some of the surrounding streets like portions of Comox or Davie street which is three blocks away.”
(One of two AIRBNB listings today in taxpayer-subsidized “The Lauren” at 1051 Broughton (1401 Comox), the former site of St. John’s Church, West End. 22 storey tower built by Westbank, opened Sept. 2014)
(Update: See epilogue at bottom — with response from a City Councillor.) Purportedly to create “affordable rentals” for the people of Vancouver, the City of
Vancouver has done some major block-busting, faced off with neighbourhoods, overridden zoning guidelines and policies, fast-tracked rezoning and development applications, relaxed all sorts of regulations, and let developers off the hook paying millions of dollars in Development Cost Levies (DCLs) and Community Amenity Contributions (CACs). The Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program was subject to a lawsuit by West End Neighbours. After tweaking it to deal with technicalities, the City has raced ahead with its replacement, Rental 100.
The second AIRBNB listing today is also for a nice unit. This taxpayer-subsidized unit goes for $240CAD a night, or $1400CAD a week: “New Building in the heart of Vancouver’s West End. This corner unit wraps around with amazing water and city views! Rare 2bd 2 baths, central to all public transportation, beaches, and the best of downtown lifestyle.”
Once built, the developer enjoys a very stable and attractive cash flow. The WEN lawsuit forced City Hall to declare for the first time the starting rents for new buildings (very high, it turns out) admit that the programs are NOT creating affordable rentals. The City changed the wording to “secured market rental,” with “secured” meaning that the owner must use the building as a rental building for 60 years. “Market” means that the rents can be the top price the market will bear, and that is exactly what is happening. But other than that, anything goes, it seems. In fact, the City does no follow-up to gather information on the rental prices being charged, and the way the City set it up, the property owner can jack up the prices just as any with other rental units on the market.
In addition, as shown above, the City does no follow-up monitoring of how the units are actually being used. The failure to monitor for achievement of goals is a shortcoming of any organization, and the City, with its $1.2 billion budget IS indeed an organization, with its primary mission being to serve the citizens of Vancouver.
The point of this article today is NOT a witch hunt for Airbnb users. We wish to direct attention to the City’s purported efforts to create affordable housing to deal with the housing crisis affecting our city.
Here are the key issues that we believe our public servants and elected officials should deal with:
- Public resources being used for creation of “affordable rental units” that are being rented at high rents by people who already have other homes in which to live
- How is the City dealing with possibly illegal use of rental units as short-term rentals
- The City’s own bylaws that prohibit short-term rentals appear not to be enforced
The programs have indeed created some rental units (see list below), but did the neighbourhoods and citizens of Vancouver get fair value for what they paid? The first obligation of Mayor and Council is to put the public interest first. But who are they really helping?
Readers may wish to contact Mayor and Council and encourage them to have a public discussion on the agenda in the Council Chamber soon regarding how buildings effectively subsidized by the citizens and taxpayers of Vancouver for STIR and Rental 100 are being used. Should more monitoring of rental rates and uses of the units be put in place? Should rules for the use of these taxpayer-subsidized units be clarified?
RENTAL 100 Program, May 2012, ongoing and active, figures to Dec 2014
|245 E Georgia St||40|
|1568 E King Ed @ Kingsway||77|
|7350 Fraser St||96|
|3501-3523 E Hastings||101|
|450 Gore Ave||43|
|333 E 11th (275 Kingsway)||195|
|3819 Boundary Rd||25|
|2681 Main St||17|
|1755 W 14th @ Burrard||122|
|1600-1620 W 6th Ave||87|
|5648-5670 Victoria Dr||48|
STIR PROGRAM to June 2009 to Dec 2011
|5711 Rhodes St||40|
|2778 E Hastings||34|
|2215 E Hastings||37|
|4320 Slocan St||41|
|1418 E 41st||34|
|963 E 19th Ave||40|
Councillor Raymond Louie responded on March 13, 2015, to a query by a concerned citizen, who shared the response with us, as below.
On your first issue regarding the rental housing programs. Staff have indicated to me that they are in process of writing a larger housing report that will include a section relating to this problem.The condition of approval is very clear. (below) [CHW note: This relates specifically to The Lauren, at 1051 Broughton Street in the West End. Presumably the same rules apply to ALL STIR and Rental 100 units.]“Execute a Housing Agreement pursuant to the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) Program to secure all 186 residential units in this development as rental for the life of the building or 60 years, whichever is longer, and to include registrable covenants in respect of all such units prohibiting stratification, separate sales and rental for a term of less than one month at a time, and subject to such other terms and conditions as are satisfactory to the Director of Legal Services, the Managing Director of Social Development.”Specific to this building [i.e., The Lauren, at 1051 Broughton] staff have communicated to the owner that they are out of compliance with the agreed upon conditions of approval and the owners have acknowledged this and have directed their rental team to take corrective action with the offending tenant.
CHW comment: What systems can be put in place to ensure that the STIR and Rental 100 units approved by City Hall do NOT violate the conditions set forth — for SIXTY years after each building was approved? Will we see that in the staff report mentioned above?
And finally, we bring a comment up from Drive Patron (below) — Besides AirBnb, you should also have a glance to competitors such as : 9flats, Alterkeys, BeWelcome, CouchSurfing, Flat-Club, HomeAway, Hospitality Club, Hospitality service, Pasporta Servo, Roomorama, Servas Open Doors, SleepOut.com, Travelmob, Tripping, Vacation Rentals By Owner, and Wimdu.
Good point. How is the City going to ensure that the STIR and Rental 100 units created a considerable public sacrifice do not end up abused for personal profits, for the next sixty years? Stay tuned…