Below we provide excerpts of this article, published today. Please see the source for the full text. We believe the public needs to hold our elected officials to account. They are the policy makers, elected to put the public interest first in all their work. But in many cases, the pattern seems to be delay, delay, delay, then study, study, study, and by the time they develop policy, the sources of the problem are so deeply entrenched that a policy response has become more difficult by an order of magnitude. Similar patterns are evident in addressing the housing crisis, which was already showing early signs a decade ago.
There are also domino effects. For example, by such a long delay in addressing the issue of illegal short term rentals, the City has exacerbated friction among the citizens. A group of social media activists is now actively organizing to lobby City Council at Public Hearings and urge it to approve unlimited new construction and ignore existing zoning policies, all the while one of the leaders is engaged in alleged hate speech, and profiting from house flipping and illegal Airbnb rentals. Meanwhile, the City approves an increasing number of developments under its “Rental 100,” and “Interim Rezoning Policy for Increasing Affordable Housing Choices” (IRP), but has no system in place to monitor illegal rentals of those units via Airbnb and other short term rentals.
Cities take aim at Airbnb: Airbnb and other short-term operators are being blamed for reducing housing for renters
(by Sunny Dhillon, The Globe and Mail, Monday, Jul. 11, 2016)
… But some residents fear whatever cushion the community [Nelson, B.C.] of 10,000 had concerning rental housing is dwindling, and the finger is being pointed in a direction increasingly familiar to Canadian cities big and small: Airbnb.
… The rapidly rising cost of rental units in Canada’s largest cities, along with vacancy rates near zero, mean it’s increasingly difficult for people who rely on rental units to find – and keep – their housing. Like the real estate market, rental prices have become detached from incomes and are forcing people to live in cramped apartments, find roommates well into adulthood or simply move away.
… Nelson’s city council will receive a report on the impact of Airbnb and other short-term rental operators next month. Vancouver city staff will provide their update in September, and staff members in Toronto have begun work on a similar report.
But while many Canadian cities are still weighing their options, municipal governments elsewhere have already taken action. Paris launched a high-profile crackdown on suspected short-term rentals in 2014. A Berlin law restricting the short-term rental of entire houses took effect earlier this year. And Airbnb late last month filed a lawsuit against its hometown of San Francisco, after the city passed an ordinance that could see the company face fines.
In Vancouver, how to respond to the growth of Airbnb and other short-term rental services has taken on new urgency amid concerns about availability of housing. Though home ownership has drawn much of the attention, renters have seen prices jump while contending with a vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent. Housing experts have said a healthy vacancy rate is 3 per cent to 5 per cent.
[The article goes on to give examples of regulation in Quebec, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, Hawaii.]
… Geoff Meggs, a Vancouver councillor, said he believes Airbnb has had a negative impact on Vancouver’s rental housing stock: “I think we passed the tipping point some time ago, where the downsides of this new business are becoming much bigger for people than the upsides.”
Mr. Meggs said a report last year by Simon Fraser University master’s student Karen Sawatzky served as an eye-opener. Ms. Sawatzky found there were 3,473 Airbnb listings in Vancouver at the time, raising concerns that long-term renters were being shut out.
“[Airbnb] provides a profit incentive to property owners to rent their units out to tourists instead of tenants on a full-time basis,” she said in a recent interview. “I think it’s definitely something to be concerned about.”
[CityHallWatch comment: For this quote he is relying on research done voluntarily and independently by a masters student who felt the topic was important and deserved attention. But it reveals the passive and reactionary approach being taken by the City. Councillor Meggs is in charge of the housing portfolio with his civic party, Vision Vancouver. Why did the City not take the lead in investigating early on? ]
… Airbnb, which has been in contact with the City of Vancouver for its upcoming report, last week released details on its presence. It said it now has more than 4,200 active hosts in Vancouver and the number of listings booked last year jumped to 6,400. The number of listings booked in 2013 was about 1,800.
… Quebec announced legislation to regulate Airbnb last year, making it the first province to do so. The bill, which took effect on April 15, requires those listing properties to obtain the same certification as hotels and bed and breakfasts. It also charges a lodging tax. A Tourisme Québec spokesperson said it is too early to tell how much money has been collected.
… Mr. Meggs, the Vancouver councillor, said he did not want to prejudge the staff report when asked if there were cities whose Airbnb approach Vancouver should emulate. But he said enforcement will be key, and he’d like it to be simple and quick.
Vancouver last month passed a motion that called on the province to collect hotel and provincial sales taxes from short-term rental websites. The B.C. government did not provide a response when asked for comment on the motion.