Fresh data about Airbnb rentals in Vancouver suggests a growing number of the city’s couches, spare rooms, and entire homes and apartments are up for rent via the popular mobile app.
According to online information obtained on December 3, there were 4,728 Airbnb listings for the city.
Of those, 3,179, or 67 percent, were for an entire place; 1,399, or 30 percent, were for a private room; and 150, or three percent, were for a shared room.
The data was collected and made available by Inside Airbnb, a website run by New York–based photojournalist Murray Cox. He describes the project as an “independent, non-commercial set of tools and data that allows you to explore how Airbnb is really being used in cities around the world”.
Cox’s study also found that of those 3,179 Vancouver listings for an entire place, 76 percent or 2,408 units fall into a “high availability” category, meaning they are available to rent for more than 90 days per year.
“Entire homes or apartments highly available year-round for tourists probably don’t have the owner present, could be illegal, and, more importantly, are displacing residents,” the website states.
In April 2015, the vacancy rate for the Vancouver region (as opposed to the city) was 1.4 percent, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. That's down from 1.8 percent the previous year. The vacancy rate specific to rentals is even lower, at 0.5 percent.
Cox’s look at Vancouver was constructed with the help of Karen Sawatzky, an SFU master’s student who published similar information last summer. In a telephone interview, she cautioned that there are differences in how the two packages were assembled and presented. But Sawatzky said even a rough comparison makes clear that more Vancouver residents are renting spaces on Airbnb.
Her data was captured on June 1, 2015. It showed 3,473 Airbnb listings for Vancouver, 2,466 of which were for an entire dwelling.
Sawatzky noted June is typically a busy month for the tourism industry, whereas December is not. She said the increase in the number of listings heading into the winter months raises questions about whether Airbnb is seasonal or becoming a more permanent way for people to make money by renting rooms year-round.
NPA city councillor Melissa De Genova told the Straight she requested that city staff review the Airbnb issue last summer and is waiting to hear back.
“We have to look at our existing rental stock and how Airbnb is affecting that,” De Genova said. “If those properties are coming off the market because it is more lucrative for the owner to rent them as an Airbnb to tourists, we certainly have to look at that.”
De Genova emphasized that the so-called sharing economy has developed as an important new sector and one that provides services many people enjoy. She said she doesn’t believe Airbnb should be banned from Vancouver and recommended the city accommodate and regulate Airbnb in ways that minimize impacts on renters and communities.