Let’s put a face on the Airbnb problem. My husband and I run a small business in Georgetown, we have two small children (and a grown one) and make a modest living. We are not rich, we buy new-to-you cars, we work hard every day and we volunteer in our community. But we are getting older and our current business model requires us to work long hours on our feet sometimes seven days a week. Don’t get me wrong, we love it, we love where we live and what we do, but recently our physical limitations are becoming more pronounced as my husband approaches the age of 60. (I’m not going to tell you how old I am).
So, when another tourist operator renovated the house next door to us into a short-term rental, we purchased it with my sister-in-law as our business partner. Whether the house would have been renovated to this extent without the financial incentive of rental income is open to debate. There are three other houses for sale on our street and are still for sale.
As a small business owner, we face an uncertain future - no pensions, so our concern for a safe financial future with small children is a pressing and ever-present concern. We expected the additional rental income to pay for the house over 10 years, when we would look at selling the property to help fund our retirement. We purchased the short-term rental in a General-Purpose Zoned area that allows commercial businesses. We registered it, had it inspected and met every regulation and paid every fee and tax associated with having a short-term tourist accommodation on PEI. We are just a regular family trying to make a little bit of extra money.
Recently these short-term rentals have been vilified by the corporate hotel and motel businesses that have traditionally had a monopoly on short-term rentals and a vested interest in showing this rental segment in a negative light. To compound this, poor planning by federal, provincial and municipal governments dropped the ball on affordable housing and they are skewering Airbnb rentals and using them as a scapegoat. They are being blamed for a variety of housing fails. Blaming these housing deficiencies on short-term rentals is convenient for both the government and the existing tourist accommodation industry.
Our current dilemma is whether to replace four upstairs windows (at considerable expense) to meet new egress regulations so we can continue to rent it as planned, which we are hesitant to do with the current dialogue on legislating these short-term rentals out of existence, to rent it monthly or sell the damn thing.
The positive aspects of the Airbnb market are seldom discussed - its ability to renovate and gentrify small rural communities that have seen significant declines in recent years; that it attracts tourists to out-of-the-way areas they may not otherwise have visited and its ability to provide income and generate revenue for owners and surrounding businesses. The fact is this rental revenue allows families to stay in small rural communities.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. If the market requires more housing, build it. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work; build more to meet the demand, generate more jobs and revenue. Capitalize on this opportunity. Don’t discourage existing small entrepreneurship and don’t simplify a complex issue and blame one segment of the accommodation industry for the failure of government to plan for future (now present) growth.
Stacy and Richard Toms,