Fans, crit­ics pack Airbnb de­bate

Toronto pub­lic meet­ing comes as many voice con­cerns about hous­ing avail­abil­ity, af­ford­abil­ity

Toronto Star - - OBITUARIES, MEMORIALS, BIRTHS | GREATER TORONTO - BETSY POWELL CITY HALL BUREAU

Fans of Airbnb — and its de­trac­tors — packed a com­mit­tee room at Toronto City Hall on Wed­nes­day night to meet with city staff who are de­vel­op­ing reg­u­la­tions on short-term rentals in Toronto.

The sec­ond pub­lic meet­ing comes as po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are voic­ing con­cerns daily about hous­ing avail­abil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity. Some blame the emer­gence of Airbnb and other on­line plat­forms for re­mov­ing units from the per­ma­nent rental mar­ket.

Car­leton Grant, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and strate­gic sup­port in the city’s licensing di­vi­sion, told the crowd Wed­nes­day evening that the is­sue is “very di­verse, chal­leng­ing (and) com­plex.”

In Jan­uary 2016, coun­cil asked staff to re­search and de­velop po­ten­tial reg­u­la­tions for short-term rentals, he ex­plained.

“The very key word there is po­ten­tial reg­u­la­tions,” he said. “They’re not say­ing come back with rules but they’re say­ing come back with po­ten­tially what rules could look like, some op­tions for con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Grant also shared data from Airbnb, the king of the short-term on­line rental plat­forms. Ac­cord­ing to Airbnb sta­tis­tics, there were more than 16,000 Toronto list­ings on Airbnb in 2016. Ninety seven per cent of the book­ings were for a stay that lasted less than 30 days.

Twenty-four per cent of these short­term rentals took place in a house while 69 per cent oc­curred in con­do­mini­ums and apart­ment build­ings, Grant said. Con­cerns have been raised about safety and nui­sance is­sues, such as noise, and in­creased traf­fic in high­rise cor­ri­dors.

Par­tic­i­pants were shown a map of Airbnb list­ings in Toronto, with the high­est con­cen­tra­tion in the down­town core and along the Yonge St. spine to­ward North York.

Af­ter Grant’s pre­sen­ta­tion, the crowd broke into groups with staff mem­bers. Airbnb hosts, many wear­ing grey T-shirts with the com­pany’s logo, a heart and T.O. on the front, shared sto­ries about how rent­ing their homes on the plat­form had en­riched their lives and helped pay the bills. Oth­ers were less glow­ing. “We have a big prob­lem be­cause the owner is rent­ing it out to some­one not know­ing that ten­ant, or some ten­ant, or short-term rental com­pany is step­ping in with­out the owner’s knowl­edge,” a real es­tate agent who sells con­do­mini­ums told one group.

Cur­rently, some res­i­dents can rent rooms to tourists in cer­tain ar­eas of Toronto, Grant said. The city does not cur­rently is­sue per­mits or li­cences for short­term rentals, nor does it is­sue per­mits to ho­tels, mo­tels or bed and break­fasts.

Staff is look­ing at a va­ri­ety of ar­eas in­clud­ing zon­ing, licensing and the im­pact of short-term rentals on af­ford­abil­ity and avail­abil­ity on hous­ing.

There was a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion in North York in March and five pri­vate stake­holder meet­ings and the city is ask­ing for in­put in on on­line sur­vey. Staff will present the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions to Mayor John Tory’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee on June 19.

Grant promised the crowd the re­port will be made pub­lic seven days be­fore the meet­ing to al­low for ad­di­tional feed­back.

JEN­NIFER PAGLIARO/TORONTO STAR

A pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion on short-term rentals, fo­cus­ing mainly on Airbnb, drew a ca­pac­ity crowd to city hall on Wed­nes­day evening.

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