Below is a speech written and presented by Claire Byrne at the May 17, 2020 “Rally for STR Regulation” at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown
I am a Ward 4 resident and have lived in downtown Charlottetown for the majority of my life. This gives 2 decades’ worth of stories on the impact to my friends and neighbours and community by the total lack of leadership by the city on the question of housing in Charlottetown.
Because of the unregulated short-term rentals in Charlottetown, our homes are being used as hotels in the downtown core, this has made finding safe, affordable, and adequate housing next to impossible. This unregulated greed has put a huge amount of strain on people accessing a safe place to live. We see examples of this every day. International students who are already being price gouged at school are facing racism and exploitation from landlords, women trying to leave abusive relationships have nowhere to turn, housing costs are climbing to the point of making Charlottetown virtually unlivable. None of this is an exaggeration. Airbnb operators will try to argue they are not at fault when we know today that regulated owner-occupied short-term rentals would immediately return 122 units into the housing market.
Allowing short-term rentals to operate with zero regulations leads to exploitation when looking for housing. Removing whole houses from the housing stock has made the vacancy rate in Charlottetown plummet. For myself, this has resulted in having a landlord tell me the unit was going to be $500 more expensive per month than he had listed because he received so much interest in it.
The building I live in now was purchased and flipped years ago and at that point, the rent was increased by nearly $1000/mo, my rent now amounts to about 50% of my current income.
When looking for housing, I had a friend who was offered a room for $650 a month but with six other people all sharing one bathroom and one kitchen in the middle of the pandemic when we were asked to keep our circles small. This same friend was told by a different landlord that he didn’t want to rent to Nigerians because he said they were too loud.
Another friend is paying $2500 for a bungalow to house her and her 4 kids and is living in constant fear that her rent will be increased or her landlord will kick them out as soon as tourism on PEI resumes.
We’ve heard from shelters on the island that women leaving abuse stay in their abusive situations for a fear they have nowhere else to go. Our shelters are full.
For international students already paying nearly 3x higher tuition than domestic students they are at a higher risk of exploitation moving to a new country where they don’t know their rights as tenants and have a real fear of retaliation if they raise any concerns on their housing to their landlords.
I consider myself lucky to know my rights and feel secure in my rental for now, but when I was looking for housing this year, I reached out to Airbnb listings in the city seeking long-term housing because there were no other adequate listings. One downtown Airbnb operator told me that $2700/mo “was already reasonably priced” for a one-bedroom. And it was only available until May.
And even still Airbnb landlords will say they are not responsible for the harm caused to our communities but we know they are operating with only their own wealth in mind and are permitted to continue this harm to our neighbours and communities by the city’s inaction on this issue.
This combination of Airbnb landlords being motivated by their own greed and the city spending years of total inaction on the question of short-term rentals has pushed our most vulnerable neighbours to the brink. This is the same city council that filled in a very clearly used tunnel for shelter, leaving those who used this space with zero recourse.
We’re here to show the city council that the right to safe and adequate housing for our neighbours is far more important than the unregulated desire for the wealth of a handful of people.