Short-term rentals need regulation – Winnipeg Free Press


Opinion

CANADIANS are struggling with the affordability of housing, as both renters and homebuyers find themselves spending more to keep a roof over their heads.

Winnipeg is no exception. Our city is among six Canadian municipalities in which rent prices are dangerously outpacing wages, according to a 2022 report by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

As the provincial government sells Manitoba Housing stock, many households are on a waitlist for affordable housing, and increasing numbers of our neighbours find themselves forced into encampments. Winnipeg is facing a poverty crisis that only stands to be exacerbated by the potential for unregulated short-term rentals.

Local governments across the country have learned the hard way that increasing the number of residential units won’t help if they just get permanently converted to quasi-hotel space. Ever more jurisdictions in Canada are implementing or tightening regulations for short-term rentals.

Given the rising housing and affordability crisis, as civic election day approaches in Winnipeg, it is surprising how silent council and mayoral candidates have been when it comes to addressing this issue.

We are already in the midst of an affordability crisis, and the twin pressures of inflation and shrinking vacancy rates are poised to make residents’ lives harder. The experiences of other cities show that when Airbnb and other platforms grow their inventory at an exponential rate, housing costs are driven up by catering to higher-paying tourists rather than long-term residents.

This trend will similarly increase housing prices and rental rates in Winnipeg.

City planning follows guidelines instituted by elected levels of government, and housing is planned, zoned and approved in Winnipeg using this process. When homes can be turned wholesale into dedicated Airbnb hotel inventory, communities experience a wide range of adverse impacts.

When a house or condo unit next to you has been turned into a full-time short-term rental, you will quickly learn what it’s like to live next to, at best, a revolving door of strangers or, at worst, next to a party house. Everyone loves dedicated Airbnbs when on vacation, but no one loves living next to one.

But isn’t there a way for residents to supplement their income through short-term rentals, without removing housing or risking community disruptions? Sure there is, but it requires thoughtful regulation and genuine partnership with renters and owners.

To be clear, we are not suggesting a ban on short term rentals; rather, we are hoping Winnipeg can institute a reasonable policy that balances a modern reality with fair policies for our residents.

To address current short-term rental problems and avoid future ones, Winnipeg should learn from the experiences of numerous other Canadian jurisdictions that have implemented what we consider to be fair rules.

We suggest municipalities such as the City of Winnipeg consider instituting a principal-residence requirement. Such a requirement allows long-term residents, be they homeowners or long-term tenants, to rent out their own homes on platforms such as Airbnb, but Airbnb’s hosts can’t buy up, lease-up or otherwise acquire homes to turn them into full-time short-term rentals.

This policy follows the original spirit of Airbnb, rather than the current disruptive model.

A principal-residence requirement has two added advantages. First, it allows residents to rent out their own home while away, supplementing income while protecting the loss of housing, as investment properties are excluded from the short-term rental market.

Second, restricting short-term rental use to principal residences dramatically reduces community and neighbourhood disruptions, as hosts rent out their own homes and, unlike absentee landlords, tend to have real relationships with their neighbours.

In April, the city began a consultation process to address the regulation of short term rentals. It closed this summer, and with a formal report expected later this year, it is odd that civic-election candidates have not addressed this issue.

Consultation is certainly a step forward, but an election is also a perfect time to have an open debate about the merits of short-term rental regulation.

Winnipeg’s housing market is still somewhat affordable compared to other cities, and with regard to short-term rentals, we can learn from best practices in other Canadian municipalities. Failing to regulate short-term rentals risks contributing to growing inequality and unaffordability of shelter, a basic human right.

Regulating this sector will protect our housing stock, minimize disruptive short-term use and keep our city affordable.

As election day draws closer, the question we have for aspiring members of council is this: are you up to the challenge?

Zach Fleisher is a policy specialist in Winnipeg. JJ Fueser and Thorben Wieditz work with the FairBnB coalition.



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