Short-term rental restrictions: First step or attention diverter?

City council has taken a step in the right direction by voting to prohibit short-term rentals like Airbnb for anything that’s not a person’s principal residence.

This much-overdue decision will hopefully bring some relief to long-suffering tenants who are finding it more and more difficult to secure rental accommodation in the city.

While I welcome council’s decision to significantly reduce short-term rentals, I must question how big an impact this decision will actually have on the rental market.

The real solution lies not so much in regulating short-term rentals but, instead, requiring developers to build a certain percentage of every new project as below-market rentals. It would be very simple for city council to require all developers to set aside 10% of all units in any new development as rent-tied-to-income suites. Tenants in these suites would not be required to pay anything more than 30% of their income on rent.

With the large number of developments being approved every year in Vancouver, such a requirement would not only deliver much-needed rental stock but perhaps even more importantly, it would ensure rental accommodation available at below market rents. Availability is important, but if housing is priced out of reach of the average person it is still unavailable.

Vancouver’s work force is being hollowed out as an overwhelming number of workers can no longer afford to live in the city. As workers move away, it becomes harder and harder for employers to fill job vacancies, which has a negative impact on the economy. A recent article in the Vancouver Sun by Randy Shore, for instance, reported that the BC Tech job search site has 1,200–1,500 jobs posted at any given moment. One of Vancouver’s best-loved eateries, Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe and Pie Shop on W. 4th Avenue, has to close early because they can’t find enough staff.

While I support city council’s long-overdue decision to restrict short-term rentals, I worry that they will have succeeded in diverting our attention away from real action on this crisis.

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