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Federal housing minister floats Airbnb crackdown to boost long-term rental supply

Sean Fraser.

Sean FraseMinister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser has floated a crackdown on short-term rental properties to make more units available for long-term housing.r, ministre du Logement, de l'Infrastructure et des Collectivités, prend la parole lors d'une annonce à l'extérieur d'un immeuble de logements locatifs en cours de développement par le University of British Columbia Properties Trust, à Vancouver, le mercredi 16 août 2023.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Darryl Dyck


Tens of thousands of short-term rental properties could be turned into homes for families, Sean Fraser says

Housing Minister Sean Fraser said Monday the federal government is considering a series of measures to curb the number of Airbnb and other short-term rental units on offer to boost the supply of homes available to rent for a longer stretch.

Fraser said a crackdown on the proliferation of these units is part of a broader Liberal government plan to help build and finance more housing units to deal with an acute shortage of affordable homes.

The fall economic statement, set to be tabled tomorrow, is expected to include billions of dollars worth of new measures (new window) to help Canada cope with a severe housing crunch, including low-cost loans for home construction.

But Fraser said there's another way to address the supply crunch: make existing properties tied up on short-term rental platforms available to prospective long-term renters and buyers.

We believe there's likely tens of thousands of homes that could be made available to Canadians by addressing this particular challenge, Fraser said of Airbnb units, which typically are rented out a few nights at a time to travellers.

If there's tens of thousands of units we can turn into not a competitor for a hotel for a few nights but a home for a family in a community, it's incumbent on us to do everything we can to use those properties for homes.

Fraser said Ottawa could use its taxation powers to make owning an Airbnb less lucrative to bring on new pockets of supply.

The government's theory is that if it's less financially advantageous to put a property up for rent on a platform like Airbnb or VRBO, many owners will instead sell their units or rent them out for longer stretches to locals and newcomers.

Airbnb did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the government's approach to short-term rental properties.

The Toronto Star reported Monday that Ottawa will soon block people from deducting expenses on short-term rentals in areas where those services are already limited by other levels of government.

Radio-Canada, CBC's French-language service, has also confirmed that reporting.

That tax measure, which would come into effect on Jan. 1, is meant to crack down on property owners who flout local regulations.

But Fraser said there may be other levers Ottawa can pull beyond tax measures to rein in the number of short-term rental units. He didn't offer any specifics.

We do have the authority to make changes through the federal system of taxation, he said. This is one of the areas we're looking at but it's not necessarily the only one.

An affordable housing construction project in Ottawa is shown earlier this month. While new projects are breaking ground, it's not happening at a quick enough pace, Canada's national housing agency says.

An affordable housing construction project in Ottawa is shown earlier this month. While new projects are breaking ground, it's not happening at a quick enough pace, Canada's national housing agency says.

Photo:  (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

Fraser also said B.C.'s recent overhaul of the short-term rental market may be something to emulate elsewhere.

Under B.C.'s new law, short-term rentals that aren't in an operator's principal residence will soon be banned outright — a restriction that will take thousands of units off vacation rental platforms.

People or companies with multiple Airbnbs will have to list them for long-term rentals or face an onerous fine of $3,000 a day.

It's difficult to say just how many short-term rental units there are in Canada.

recent McGill University report (new window) found there were 28,510 short-term rental listings active each day in B.C. alone in June 2023.

The report, prepared by David Wachsmuth, a professor in the school of urban planning, found that short-term rentals were taking 16,810 housing units off of B.C.'s long-term market.

Chrystia Freeland

Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland praised B.C.'s new legislation restricting the short-term rental market.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Adrian Wyld

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland signalled last month that Ottawa is intent on curbing the number of short-term rentals on offer. She praised B.C.'s legislation.

We know that short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb and VRBO mean fewer homes for Canadians to rent, especially in urban and populated areas of our country, Freeland told an October press conference.

Freeland said she has seen estimates suggesting that as many as 30,000 more homes could be made available for rent in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, if those platforms were restricted.

It is so important that we are examining whether there are any tools in federal jurisdiction that we could use that would make a difference in this space, she said.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) estimates the country needs to build 3.5 million more housing units by 2030 to meet explosive demand as the country's population expands, thanks in part to record immigration.

Total housing starts numbered about 260,000 units last year, according to CMHC data. That suggests construction will have to meaningfully accelerate to meet the demand for affordable homes.

John Paul Tasker (new window) · CBC News