City ponders how to deal with Airbnbs

The City of Victoria is trying to determine the impact short-term vacation rentals such as Airbnbs are having on the city's housing stock.

The City of Victoria is still trying to determine the impact short-term vacation rentals such as Airbnbs are having on the municipality’s current housing stock.

According to a staff report, there are approximately 300 rental units on Airbnb in Victoria — the equivalent of about 1.1 per cent of total rental stock in the city — that are being rented at any given time in the downtown core, but does not specify if it’s entire suites or simply one room being rented out.

It’s a number some councillors believe is too high and could be put back into the city’s housing stock to help house students and other residents.

However, during a recent meeting, staff admitted the data collected so far isn’t enough to say if the number of Airbnbs is having an impact on the city’s housing stock and instead recommended stepping up enforcement of the city’s current zoning regulations, which only allow short-term vacation rentals in certain areas of the city. It also requires people running Airbnbs to have business licences.

By requiring people to apply for business licences, it would allow the city to gather more data on how short-term vacation rentals are impacting the housing stock.

But some councillors said the recommendations don’t go far enough in cracking down on Airbnbs and alleviating the housing crisis.

“I do think homes should primarily be used as homes. That is what council decided, that’s not what the report and recommendations reflect. We need to make sure our regulations include business licences that limit how many days the unit can be used as short term vacation rentals,” said Coun. Jeremy Loveday.

Coun. Pam Madoff expects the housing crisis to get worse and was hoping to have more action reflected in the recommendations.

Coun. Chris Coleman shared his experience of staying in an Airbnb in Washington for three nights for the price of $700, but said determining what affect that is having on housing will be the biggest challenge.

“It was close to George Washington University and it could have been taking that out of rental housing stock for students,” he said. “It’s trying to understand those variables that is going to be a task for us.”

In the end, council decided to table the motion until a workshop next year.

While the city is still unsure of the impact of Airbnbs, it is taking steps to increase housing stock in other ways.

Council is now making it easier for residents to build garden suites — small, detached, ground-oriented units, on their property.

Since 2004, the city has received 29 applications for new garden suites, only 18 of which have been completed. In the past, homeowners had to go through the standard building and development permit processes and had to apply for re-zoning.

However, applicants no longer have to apply for a rezoning — which council hopes will encourage more people to build garden suites, and thus create more housing stock.

“One of the main reasons I’m supporting this is when I look at who garden suites are used for, often they’re rented to aging parents so they can be close to the grandparents, families with kids, which allows for children to find good homes, especially in residential areas near schools and for my interest, many of them allow pets,” said Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe.