The following are presentations made to the Charlottetown City Council on January 7, 2020 regarding the city’s current short term rental bylaw.
Presentation by Ainsley Kendrick
Good evening. My name is Ainsley Kendrick and I am a member of the PEI Fight For Affordable Housing Group. We are a grassroots group of volunteers who have come together to support tenant rights and advocate for the right to safe, adequate and affordable housing for all.
I want to start by grounding ourselves in the context of what we’re talking about when we discuss housing. We live, work, and build housing on land that is still the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We think it’s very important for us to center our conversations about housing in the spirit of the Peace and Friendship treaties. Additionally, we want to highlight that Indigenous people still face many barriers to accessing housing and reducing these barriers should be a priority for this municipal government.
As some of you may know, I and my partner D work alongside my parents for their experiential tour company, Experience PEI. Our company is a standing member of many tourism associations on PEI and the Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce. It goes without saying that we have a desire to support tourism on the island and would like to see it grow for years to come. However, there is a misconception that because we work in tourism that we inherently support the illegal operation of commercial STRs in Charlottetown. What we are in support of is fair taxation and bylaws that enforce the owner-occupied model and support traditional tourism accommodations.
There seems to be an unfounded fear among our local politicians that if we were to restrict STRs to be owner-occupied, this would do damage to the tourism industry on the Island. However, has it been considered that if you deplete a community of its people then our industry would also suffer as a result? If there are no affordable accommodations for its workforce how will tourism continue to grow? If we can’t deliver the level of hospitality that we are known for, that visitors have come to expect, won’t this be the cause of the decline?
As was found in a 2018 article in the Huffington Post in cities like New Orleans, “… Tourism and gentrification typically bring cleaner streets and less crime, but tourists don’t stick around to clean up the neighbourhood, vote in local elections or lobby for better schools.” ¹
Currently, there is no real data to show the positive impact of STRs on the tourism industry. In a 2019 Journal Pioneer article, Chris Jones, from the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture stated that “the department is not currently tracking the number of licensed tourism establishments that would be considered a “short-term rental.” So, if the province isn’t tracking the usage of str’s on the island then how are we supposed to know for certain the specific impact it is having on our industry? ²
Furthermore, there is no way to know for sure those who currently use STRs won’t use traditional accommodations if they weren’t available. The Economic Policy Institute published an article in early 2019 that evaluated the economic costs and benefits of Airbnb. It states “There is little evidence that cities with an increasing supply of short-term Airbnb rental accommodations are seeing a large increase in travellers. Instead, accommodations supplied via Airbnb seem to be a nearly pure substitution for other forms of accommodation. Surveys indicate only 2 to 4 percent of those using Airbnb say that they would not have taken the trip were Airbnb rentals unavailable.
Studies claiming that Airbnb is supporting a lot of economic activity often vastly overstate the effect because they fail to account for the fact that much of this spending would have been done anyway by travellers staying in hotels or other alternative accommodations absent the Airbnb option.” ³
Sustaining Charlottetown’s Neighbourhoods
Page 18 of the City’s “Official Plan,” objective 2 states it will “allow moderately higher densities and alternative forms of development in any new residential subdivisions, provided that this development is well planned overall, and harmonious with existing residential neighbourhoods.” We know the growth of illegal STRs in residential neighbourhoods does not fulfill that objective, in fact, it is increasing the divide between the have and have-nots.
If the goal, as Page 20 of the City Plan states, is for “good community management and to ensure that there is an adequate supply and variety of affordable housing for all sectors of the population” then we cannot allow unlimited commercial str operations in our residential neighbourhoods.
Thank you for your time.
Presentation by Dee Miguel
Hello, my name is D Miguel and I am also a member of the PEI Fight for Affordable Housing.
When Ainsley and I moved here from Toronto three years ago we noticed very quickly the rental market in Charlottetown was sparse and it took us three months to find an apartment. At the open house for what was to become our new apartment, there had already been 17 other applicants. We lived there for two years and during that time we watched those houses in our neighbourhood containing long term residents go up for sale and quickly convert to short term rentals.
When the owner of our house passed away we were concerned that our apartment could be pulled from under us, so we began our search for a home to purchase. We were thrown headfirst into an amplified real estate market with extremely limited options. Operating within a seasonal tourism industry, our modest income didn’t allow us the privilege of homeownership within Charlottetown and we were forced to look farther out, putting additional restraints on our budget and day to day lives.
Our story is one of the hundreds we have heard from residents of Charlottetown and across the island that highlight what we already know is true. Unregulated, commercial STRs have an immense effect on housing, resulting in the displacement of long term residents.
In October 2019, Dr. David Wachsmuth, the Canadian Research Chair in Urban Governance presented at UPEI on the Politics and Policy of Short-Term Rentals. In this presentation, he stated that 41.6% of short-term rentals on PEI were commercial operations run by hosts with multiple listings.
Those lobbying against the owner-occupied model hold the belief that all short-term rental owners are “mom and pop” operations. According to Mr. Wachsmuth, Commerical short-term rentals are any rentals that are NOT in someone’s primary residence and not operating under the “home-sharing” model. In fact, Mr. Wachsmuth’s research shows commercial operations of short-term rentals has increased on the island by 50% in the last three years.
Proof of the positive effect of the Owner-Occupied model
Innovative cities and communities like Vancouver, Toronto and even Victoria, PEI have enacted by-laws to protect their residents while also allowing short-term tourism accommodations to thrive.
Vancouver notoriously had housing pressures and were early adopters of owner-occupied regulations. They are now seeing success since enacting their regulations in 2018. The number of STR listings in Vancouver has decreased by approximately 40 percent from its peak. We should view them as leaders in responsible planning and enforcement of STRs and follow their example. ⁴
As you already know, Toronto created principal residence bylaws in December 2017, but they were appealed at the City’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Over the past two years, they’ve heard arguments from nationwide experts, including David Wachsmuth, and ruled that the owner-occupied bylaws will come into effect. They expect to remove 7,000 listings from short term use with opportunities to return them to the long term supply.
One of the tribunal members said ”The decision also notes, correctly, that these changes do not prohibit short-term rentals but permits and regulates them in a manner that does not displace households. They also provide opportunities to meet the needs of residents and visitors requiring or preferring short-term rental accommodation in a residential setting.” ⁵
Here at home, Victoria has been proactive in wanting to protect its’ community and has had a tourist accommodation bylaw in place since 2014. Their bylaws are more restrictive than what we are suggesting with a minimum 30-day rental for residential homes, but since its introduction, the number of long term residents in the community has increased encouraging new businesses to open in the village and created a sustainable tourism economy overall. ⁶
Furthermore, If you were to enact and enforce stronger bylaws in favour of owner-occupied models, we also ask that you oppose the idea of grandfathering those commercial strs that are already in place. According to City Planner Robert Zilke from an email obtained through a FOIPP request, and I quote, “At present, a short-term vacation rental that is not owner-occupied is NOT permitted in the City of Charlottetown. A short-term rental can be treated as a Tourist Accommodation if it meets the requirements of “Tourist Accommodations On Residential Properties”.
In saying this, we ask why the current bylaw is not already being enforced? And I say again, any commercial STR business presently in operation that does not comply with the City’s current Zoning and Development bylaws should not be automatically grandfathered.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights states that we all deserve the right to safe, affordable and adequate housing. The decisions you are going to make will affect the lives of many Charlottetown residents for years to come. The solutions exist, you just need to decide what kind of legacy you are going to leave as a City Councillor. Are you going to succumb to the will of the few or support the dire needs of many?