I’ve become an accidental housing activist.
I pride myself on being a low-impact traveller, exploring on two wheels and staying in locally-owned campgrounds and hotels.
I joined Airbnb in 2012 because I thought it was a “home-sharing” B&B-type website. I used it twice in Barcelona and both times I stayed in the extra bedroom of a woman’s apartment. One stay was great, the other was awful.
A friend was in Barcelona the same time as me, only his Airbnb bookings were empty apartments, sparsely furnished with items from IKEA. There was no sign that someone actually lived there and that struck me as odd for a “home-sharing” service. I got a bad feeling from it.
Two years later, a friend asked me for suggestions on a place to stay in Vancouver. I remembered the Airbnb site and went online to find a place in my neighbourhood. I hadn’t used Airbnb since 2012 and still believed it to be a home-sharing service with the ‘host’ residing in the home.
Browsing listings on Airbnb, I was shocked to see 3 entire-home listings in my own apartment building. Here’s the backstory from the Homes Not Hotels – No Airbnb Facebook page that I felt compelled to create in response:
I live in Vancouver, Canada and I started this page out of pure frustration.
I discovered a realtor was buying up units in our older, 60-unit owner-managed apartment building. He was outfitting them as hotel rooms and then listing them on Airbnb. He did so without the knowledge or authorization of the other owners or residents. He didn’t “share.”
He lists himself as the Airbnb “host.” The thing is, he doesn’t live in the building. He doesn’t even live in Vancouver.
In 2014, he listed 3 suites on Airbnb.
In 2015, he listed 6 suites.
In 2016, he listed 10.
In 2018, he listed between 9 and 11 suites on Airbnb.
In 2019, this realtor has bought up yet another unit in our building.
Vancouver is in a housing crisis and people wonder, Where has the housing has gone? I say it’s being absorbed by websites like Airbnb. In my building alone, that’s up to 11 units of housing lost.. These were affordable rental suites that should be housing for students, couples, seniors. Now, they are hotel rooms, complete with towels and shampoo. Tourists are happy to pay these inflated prices, but our local people can’t afford them.
They’re leaving the city because they can’t find a place to live, and local businesses are closing because they can’t find staff.
Basically, tourists who want to “live like a local” are displacing locals who want to live like a local.
In cities around the world, housing is becoming unavailable and unaffordable. One reason is commercial operators are turning our residential housing into inventory for Airbnb.com and websites like it.
What can we do? Let’s start by sharing information, stories, addresses, and names. Let’s spread the word. Let’s start here at home.
I created the Homes Not Hotels FB page to increase awareness of the effect of Airbnb (and websites like it) on housing, especially in shared rental and condo apartment buildings. It contributes to unavailability, unaffordability, increased rents, and increased home prices.
Almost every day for the past 5 years, I’ve shared news stories on the impact of Airbnb-type websites on communities around the world.
Data, studies, and a report
Now in 2019 the residents, communities, and governments are much more aware of Airbnb’s global effects. Some cities like Barcelona, Venice, and Sydney are more than aware—neighbours are overrun and they’re protesting in the streets.
Academics like David Wachsmuth of McGill University and data analyists like Murray Cox of Inside Airbnb are on it, too. For the past couple of years they’ve been “adding data to the debate.” That’s validating for regular people like me who’ve lived with it first-hand. We’re not making it up.
But wow, it’s complicated. In my home, City of Vancouver staff and policy-makers enacted new regulations in April 2018. But a year went by, and those of us in the trenches witnessed some significant gaps and loopholes in the regulations.
We browsed listings, talked with neigbours, attended meetings, and compared notes. We went from online to real life and we wrote a report. We shared it July 1, 2019.
Unintended Opportunities: A citizens’ review of Vancouver’s new short-term rental regulation system, and 12 ideas to make it better is a friendly tome. Its 27 pages are intended to inform and guide City staff and decision-makers. It identifies 47 gaps and loopholes in 6 categories:
- Platform and Agreement Gaps
- Data and Analysis Gaps
- Definition, Eligibility, and Verification Gaps
- Regulation and Compliance Gaps
- Evidence and Enforcement Gaps
- Community and Communication Gaps
For each category we offer context, issues, examples, impacts, and suggestions. And as the title suggests, we offer 12 ideas to make it better. We even throw in a list of references.
Airbnb and Big Tech
I could go on, but I think Taylor Owen (Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications, also at McGill University) said it best in his recent statement to the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy:
“2018 was the year that tech companies lost the benefit of the doubt from governments… To many in government, …the tech-sector giants should be treated like any other large multinational corporation, and that it’s time to get serious about governing Big Tech.”
Facebook wants to use our data. Uber wants to use our streets. Google wants our sidewalks. And Airbnb wants our housing.
I love to travel, but I also love my home. And I hate what Airbnb is doing to homes around the world.
If you do too, join me at Homes Not Hotels for the wild ride.