Vanishing vacancy rate bringing the Airbnb debate in Vancouver to a boil

Older West End condos could be vulnerable to redevelopment under new strata rules.

Downtown, Yaletown and West End units are most likely to appear on Airbnb’s listings.

Frustrated renters and condo residents have been sending me a steady stream of letters since yesterday’s panel discussion on CBC’s The Current about Vancouver’s Airbnb situation.

My comment that “housing is a right, accommodation is not,” struck a chord with many, both renters and condo residents, who are finding their housing options being reduced or eliminated by neighbours in the “sharing economy.”

Karen Sawatsky’s pioneering research has daylighted the volume of Airbnb listings in Vancouver, which I’m told is one of its top ten markets. Now New York data specialist Murray Cox has produced this graphic demonstration of the massive impact Airbnb is having on our city.

Renters are most concerned about the impact the short-term rentals are having on Vancouver’s vanishing vacancy rate, now below one percent. Condo owners report noisy parties, strangers wandering the building, damage to common property and much more.

Why do people offer up their home? Simple: it’s very lucrative. When I visited the Airbnb site this morning, it estimated I could generate $450 a week from renting a single double room in my townhouse. That, of course, is pitched by Airbnb as a way of reducing income inequality.

What is the city doing? Enforcement is being stepped up where long-term rental accommodation is being improperly offered online. City staff are preparing a report to council for later this year.

But if other cities are any guide, this controversy is just getting under way. Airbnb promises to work with local authorities and Vancouver staff have been in touch with the $10 billion corporation, but this issue, like so many others, will require city, regional and provincial responses.