GlobalNews: Ottawa’s long-term housing market pinched by short-term rentals, coalition says

By Rick Woodard

A coalition of hotel and tenants’ associations is calling on the City of Ottawa to regulate short-term rentals by commercial hosts like Airbnb, arguing they’re negatively impacting Ottawa’s long-term housing market.

Fairbnb said it’s not against short-term rentals altogether, but rather their commercialization. According to a report handed out at the press conference, more than 1,000 homes have been converted into what the coalition calls “ghost hotels” and close to 80 per cent of Airbnb’s estimated revenue in Ottawa is “generated by commercial operators, not ordinary hosts.”

“If you are a host and you have only one listing on a platform, and you rent it for less than 90 days a year, you will not be a problem host,” Fairbnb researcher Thorben Wieditz said.

“But if you have two to 77 entire homes on the platform… or if you rent your own home more than 90 days a year, that means that you’re likely not going to live in this home, and that means that these places will be removed permanently from the housing stock.”

In a statement, Airbnb Canada’s manager of public policy said the company believes the coalition’s report is “based on faulty assumptions and poor research.”

“Ottawa is home to many responsible Airbnb hosts who share their homes a few nights each month to help make ends meet,” Alex Dagg wrote. “Airbnb helps provide much-needed alternatives for accommodation to the many students and business travellers in Ottawa by giving companies cost-saving opportunities for longer-term stays and providing students access to housing that does not require them to continue paying rent over summer months when they may return home or travel for the summer holidays.”

Councillors Fleury and McKenney attended Tuesday’s press conference on behalf of their wards, Rideau-Vanier and Somerset, which Fairbnb found to be “more deeply saturated with ghost hotels, relatively speaking, than Toronto’s waterfront area,” a region the coalition considers “one of the epicentres of commercial Airbnb activity in Canada”.

Coun. Fleury said he sees it in his community regularly, and hears from his constituents the concerns they share about having so many such homes in their neighbourhood, including noise and safety concerns.

“I was surprised by the amount [of listings], but, certainly for me, we’re seeing it. When I knock on doors, we’re seeing that ‘oh, I’m only here for the day,'” Fleury said. “We regularly hear that at the door, which means that they’re used for temporary accommodations. At the same time, we continually hear from owners and other renters of the impact of neighbouring short-term rentals.”

Another issue that these rentals present is the number of locations it removes from Ottawa’s longer-term housing market, with Coun. McKenney saying that the city is currently facing an “affordable housing crisis.” One of the biggest groups that such a crisis affects is those living in community housing and shelters.

“Somebody raised the fact that this is also having an impact on women and children fleeing violence,” McKenney said, while also citing that the city used to see an average of 2,000 people per year move out of Ottawa Community Housing and into the private rental market — a number that has since dropped to roughly 1,200 per year.

“That is the same group of residents who will find themselves without housing and unable to move out of a shelter or unable to flee, because there is nothing available for them to rent.”

Fleury and McKenney said they hope to see a full report on what can be done to regulate short-term rentals in Ottawa closer to the end of 2019. In her statement, Dagg said Airbnb “wants to be regulated.”

“We have always advocated for fair, sensible home-sharing regulations and look forward to continuing to work with the City of Ottawa,” she wrote.

Catherine McKenney