Councillors ask if 3,500 Airbnb listings are eating into Vancouver's supply of rental housing

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      So-called foreign buyers have become a bogeyman in Vancouver debates about affordable housing. But what about foreign renters? Do people who are in Vancouver for short stays contribute to the city’s housing crunch?

      A master’s student at Simon Fraser University has published a data-driven snapshot of Airbnb offerings in Vancouver with a blog post that has caught the attention of city councillors.

      Vision Vancouver’s Geoff Meggs described the numbers as “clear evidence” the city’s housing market is affected by Airbnb, an international digital service that connects travellers with people willing to share their homes.

      “It is clear this could be having an impact on vacancy rates,” Meggs said in a telephone interview. “If there are several hundred units that are not in circulation because they are being held for outside tourist use, that could have an impact.”

      There may be almost 2,500 such units, according to information pulled from Airbnb’s website by Karen Sawatzky as part of her research for a master’s thesis in urban studies.

      In a telephone interview, Sawatzky was quick to note her data has limitations. But she said it has several aspects worthy of consideration in the context of the city’s debate about affordable housing.

      Of 3,473 Airbnb listings in the City of Vancouver as of June 1, 71 percent, or 2,466, were for an “entire place” (versus private or shared room). For 4,628 Metro Vancouver listings, that number was 66 percent. Sawatzky noted that those portions are high compared to cities such as San Francisco and Portland, where 60 and 56 percent of listings are, respectively, for an entire house or apartment.

      Next, Sawatzky said 318 Airbnb hosts in Vancouver (or 14 percent) have more than one property listed under their name.

      She added these statistics are significant because they may reveal dwellings intentionally left vacant (and therefore taking from the city’s rental stock) so they can be leased via Airbnb full-time.

      An analysis by an SFU master’s student found the five Vancouver neighbourhoods with the highest concentrations of Airbnb rentals were the downtown core, the West End, Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant, and Grandview-Woodland.
      Karen Sawatzky

      Sawatzky also called attention to neighbourhoods where Airbnb listings are clustered. On June 1, there were 648 (or 19 percent of the total) located in the downtown core, 474 in the West End, 380 in Kitsilano, 317 in Mount Pleasant, and 218 in Grandview-Woodland. She noted those are areas in high demand by Vancouver renters.

      “It seems to me like Airbnb puts residents and tourists in competition for housing,” she said. “Are residents getting pushed out of those areas because people can get higher rents for short-term rentals? That’s an important question.”

      According to Sawatzky, there has been a 20-percent increase in Vancouver listings on Airbnb since she began collecting data in November 2014. Some of that could be seasonal, she said. “But, obviously, Airbnb listings have grown dramatically.”

      NPA councillor Melissa De Genova told the Straight she wants city staff looking into any effect Airbnb is having on the housing market as well as relevant legal and zoning issues. (Section 10 of the city’s zoning and development by-law makes the vast majority of Airbnb arrangements illegal, but those regulations have never been enforced.)

      “One of the concerns is that there are a number of these short-term rentals that are possibly taking away from long-term rentals because it is more lucrative for people to rent their properties for the short term,” De Genova said.

      She noted, however, that Airbnb is a service popular with travellers as well as hosts and one that can be used without having a negative impact on rental stock.

      “A lot of people want to come here, and as we see our economy grow, we are going to see Airbnb grow,” De Genova continued. “So we have two options: we can either sit and wait for it to become an issue, or we can deal with it head-on before it becomes a larger issue.”

      Meggs said staff are monitoring the development of services like Airbnb, collectively known as the “sharing economy”. He noted there exists a city working group that’s looking at the ride-hailing service Uber. But Meggs said he’s not aware of any plan to convene something similar specifically for Airbnb.

      “At some point, the city will have to figure out how to manage these new technologies,” he said.

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      31 Comments

      Steve y

      Jun 23, 2015 at 5:19pm

      Not with this shit now... Don't be fooled by talk of affordable housing this is the hotel industry flexing on your city counsellors. If anything airbnb makes housing more affordable. Don't be gullible like you are about über

      Daisyb

      Jun 23, 2015 at 5:32pm

      @steve how does airbnb make housing more affordable? I totally think the City should look into this and enforce current by-laws.

      If I owned a condo I would not want other units in the building being listed on airbnb.

      KRox

      Jun 23, 2015 at 7:36pm

      Vancouver is a commuter city and many people use their properties only part time, whether it be during the week, on weekends, during the summer etc. would you rather they leave it empty when not in use? Short term rentals isn't necessarily an option to earn more from a property as it can be a nuisance to manage however it does provide folks like myself, the flexibility to stay at home when in town and treat visitors to a home away from home when not in use. Now multiple listings... I can see the concern.

      Airbnb'er

      Jun 23, 2015 at 7:45pm

      While I do agree that there are people who own a few properties and exclusively rent these on Airbnb, I don't think that that is the case for the majority of the listings. Myself and several of my friends have our apartments listed on Airbnb, as it is a fantastic way to earn some money while we are away traveling, especially in the summer when Vancouver is so popular. I have attended Airbnb host meet ups in the city, and this seems to the consensus with how most hosts utilize the site.

      Even if I'm only going away for a long weekend, I'll make my place available and it's virtually always rented, provided the listing is priced right for the season. The reason so many Vancouverites do this is because our housing is so overpriced that we need creative ways to regain some disposable income. Housing has been a major issue here long before Airbnb came on the scene, and articles like this only detract from the real issues of how overdevelopment and overseas investing are affecting our housing market.

      Phil Dunphy

      Jun 23, 2015 at 11:25pm

      Hold on because the city of Vancouver isn't enforcing a bylaw this issue has now somehow become a massive problem? Sounds shockingly familiar to the city and their views on marijuana. If you don't enforce regulations don't be shocked by what happens as a result of it.

      Don't forget

      Jun 24, 2015 at 7:42am

      The City only made secondary suites legal in relatively recent years (10 years ago?), and they relied on neighbours snitching on each other to enforce the bylaws. The City will do everything in its power to avoid claiming responsibility for the mess we are now in.

      Marlow

      Jun 24, 2015 at 8:06am

      Airbnb came into being because a couple of new tech grads were having trouble making rent coincidentally when a large tech conference in San Francisco had sold out all the rooms. Out came the blow up mattress and a Craigslist ad. Essentially there are many winners in this scenario - the struggling homeowner/renter, the short term guest, the conference and the city!

      It would be a pity to not fully evolve a policy around Airbnb especially since they are interested in partnering with cities to make sure regulations are adhered to and even taxes are collected as they are doing in Portland.

      Full disclosure - I am both a host and have been a guest. I have a legal suite, report my earnings to the CRA and fully support the sharing economy, as long as people are participating in it truthfully. The suite's kitchen is so tiny only transient people are interested in it as a long term rental so instead I turned it into an Airbnb. Most guests are people who rent for a month or more as they relocate from other cities and need a place, to find a place. I also am able to block off time to use it for visiting family and on occasion our son who is a struggling actor here in Vancouver.

      I do not support people who go behind their Strata or landlords backs and, as far as I can tell, neither does Airbnb.

      Wow...

      Jun 24, 2015 at 8:47am

      And once we get right to property in our Charter, like civilized people have, these sorts of regulations will be illegal because they will infringe our right to use our property as we deem best. We are not cattle to be managed by some central planning committee.

      I am allowed to rent my house to my cousins. Every living human is properly termed a "cousin" if there is no nearer relation. These bylaws simply take advantage of ignorant people. A bylaw against renting space to a travelling cousin is immoral and illegal. Our cousins have the right to visit us.

      Bruce

      Jun 24, 2015 at 10:22am

      @wow

      Nice fantasy world you have going there.

      People have rights, property doesn't.

      Patrick Smyth

      Jun 24, 2015 at 10:54am

      The fact a sitting Councillor is admitting that the city isn't up to speed on new tech is scary enough. Are they on AOL dial-up at city hall still?