NPA opposition to short-term rental rules around Airbnb could yield political benefits

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      The City of Vancouver has given the green light to allow people to open up their homes to short-term, paying visitors.

      But it didn't come without opposition from the bulked-up NPA caucus.

      It  has four members on council after its newest member, Hector Bremner, won an October by-election.

      The NPA's George Affleck slammed the short-term-rental policy for "creating more bureaucracy, more taxation, more sticks".

      He also claimed that it will do nothing to address the city's housing crisis.

      That didn't stop Vision Vancouver and Green members of council from approving a text amendment to permit people to rent one or more bedrooms in their personal residence for short-term rental accommodation for less than 30 days.

      No more than two adults are permitted in each bedroom under the new rules. People who want to rent out part of their home in this way will be required to pay a $49 annual licence fee to the city, plus a one-time application fee of $54.

      Council has not allowed Airbnb rentals of secondary suites, which will keep these units available to tenants if homeowners don't break the rules.

      Licensing fees are expected to bring in $110,000 to $140,000 in the first year, which will fall short of the $618,000 anticipated cost of implementing this program, according to a city staff report.

      Those who rent out part of their homes on a short-term basis without a licence will receive fines of $1,000 per violation.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson seemed befuddled by the NPA's opposition, noting that many cities have started regulating short-term accommodation.

      But with an election just a year away—and a possibility that Affleck may be the NPA's mayoral candidate—his party's stance might offer some political benefits.

      Condo owners in large buildings have been known to have an aversion to tenants. And they're not going to be thrilled to see straggly, luggage-dragging strangers in their lobbies on a regular basis.

      They'll approve of the NPA stance and Affleck can say he's speaking for them.

      Commercial operators of Airbnb listings who might be managing a multitude of units on behalf of absentee owners will also feel the sting of the new policy.  They'll approve of the NPA stance and see Affleck as their man, even though he hasn't approved of their activities.

      Hotel operators, some of whom are big campaign contributors to the NPA, do not want competition from pesky homeowners who charge a pittance of what it costs to stay in a suite at the Four Seasons. They'll approve of the NPA stance. Affleck will be their man.

      And many housing-starved tenants, including students, despise Airbnb because they see it as one more obstacle to them finding affordable accommodation in Vancouver. They'll approve of the NPA stance. Affleck will claim to speak for them.

      Even unions that represent hospitality workers won't be thrilled to see the entry of Airbnb into the Vancouver market. It could lead to similar regulations in other municipalities, creating a massive new bank of nonunionized tourism accommodation.

      Even though the unions normally loathe the NPA, this rule allowing short-term accommodation might not sit well with some of their members. And a few of them might vote for Affleck if he were to run against Robertson.

      The staff report noted that the tourism industry contributes $6.1 billion to the Vancouver economy and provides 66,000 full-time jobs.

      While legal short-term accommodation might stimulate more employment in certain areas of the tourism industry, it could undermine the hotel sector. It could be a voting issue for hotel workers.

      For homeowners, a short-term accommodation licence could prove to be a tremendous mortgage helper, making it possible for many to continue making payments even if interest rates rise significantly.

      But with only 5,927 listings in the city as of April, that doesn't amount to a huge number of votes.

      The NPA has seized on Airbnb as a wedge issue with less than a year to go before the next election.

      While there are many merits to the new regulatory approach, it could come at a high political cost to the mayor and his Vision Vancouver colleagues.

      This will be especially so if there are news reports of short-term renters thrashing common areas of condominiums or committing criminal offences on the premises.

      In the past, Vision Vancouver had one of its most politically astute councillors, Geoff Meggs, stickhandling this file. But now that he's gone to work for Premier John Horgan, the party has lost its most effective spokesperson on this issue. And that could come back to haunt the mayor next October when voters go to the polls.