Monday, February 4, 2019

21st Century Housing Includes Short Term Rentals

Online rental, marketing, and social-interaction platforms are transforming the way many of us live.  Our regulatory systems, however, are locked within an outdate vision of the world more comfortable in the 1950s than in 2019. We need to bring our planning and zoning frameworks into the 21st century. We can see this quite clearly in the discussions around online home and room renting platforms where worry and anxiety underlies much of the discussion and regulations tend to burdensome or none existent.   

Many people express worry about security that can be summarized as follows: “Short-term rentals can present challenges in terms of noise, security, property damage and theft, and littering.”  There is no evidence, for example, of this happening at UBC.  It is easy to find news articles about offending short-term rental operators - in North Vancouver, in Yaletown, everywhere but UBC. Even when stories can be found they are rare events. The worries about safety and disruption aren’t accurate in general, and are definitely incorrect in terms of the UBC area.

Who are the guests who frequent short term rentals at UBC? UBC is quite some commute from the busy urban core and the heart of tourist attractions.  If a person wants a short term rental at UBC they typically have a UBC-related reason. From what I have learned most guests are people such as a faculty member coming to teach a short-term course, scholars attending conferences, medical practitioners completing upgrade courses or writing exams, parents and grandparents visiting family attending UBC or visiting UBC to see if this is the right place for their child to enrol.   From all the evidence that I can see there is no problem at UBC with short term rentals - yet, there remains a general worry about disruption by strangers.  Short term rental guests are normal people like you and me.  How are these people really any more of a disturbance or a threat to community wellbeing then we ourselves already are?

There is more noise from neighbourhood children (which I enjoy), the sports teams cutting through the UNA public realm to UBC’s Thunderbird Precinct (arguably one of the great things about campus) and the UBC marching band trundling down main mall then there ever could be from a short term rental guest.  Our neighbours at Totem Park can be boisterous and occasionally the young men in Fraternity Village turn up their speakers too loud. All of the sporting events and concerts and student dormitory events produce far more traffic from ‘unknown’ people than any of the couple dozen short term rentals on campus could ever do.  Misuse of UNA visitor parking passes creates more parking issues than any guest might. Many of us live in multi-unit housing complexes where it is very unlikely we actually know (or even recognizes) all of own immediate neighbours.  Yet the persistent fear of short term rental guests as strangers persists.

We live in a complex dense urban environment that is filled with all kinds of 'disturbances.'  The net effect of a short term rental is negligible in real material terms.  The more fundamental problem is the way contemporary planning places increased density ahead of all other concerns: that's the real problem we all face and the source of much of the anxiety people express. But this is a societal, not a local problem. Fixating on one small attribute won’t solve the fundamental problem of overcrowding in urban communities.

There does need to be a place for short term rentals on campus. Right now they exist in a grey zone – not explicitly banned, not clearly supported. It’s time for UBC to step into the 21st century and create the regulatory framework to ensure short term rentals have the place they should in our cosmopolitan urban community.  Part of what contributes to a vibrant community is the mix of people. UBC constantly talks about the benefits of diversity – that diversity should include diversity of housing options that clearly include short term shared rentals.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

VSB Election Outcome vs Election Eve Prediction

On the eve of Vancouver's school board election I made the following prediction as to who, and which parties, would end up on the school board. I got some of this right. clearly my preference for progressive candidates made me slightly more optimistic in their favour than the outcome merited.

These were my picks. 3 Greens, 2 OneCity, 2 NPA, 1 Vision and 1 COPE.

Fraser (Green)
Gonzalez (Green)
Chan-Pedley (Green) 
Wong (Vision)
Bercic (One City)
Jaaf (One City)
Richardson (NPA)
Ballantyne (NPA) 
Parrott (COPE)

Here's the actual outcome. 3 Green, 1 OneCity, 3 NPA, 1 Vision and 1 COPE. I managed the general pattern, but was wrong in terms of which NPA would get elected. I had Richardson and Ballantyne, but the actual outcome was Hansen, Cho, and Ballantyne. I also miscalled which OneCity candidate would get elected. But then that's why I called it "Jumping to Conclusions."  I was very pleased to see Diana Day in tenth spot - but would hav been much happier if she had been elected. While I am saddened to see Bercic lose her spot, OneCity still retained a voice on school board with Jennifer Reddy who ended up 3rd overall in vote count.

Let's look at the bottom 2/3rds of the list.  There are several interesting things to note.

The main progressive and right wing candidates (Vision, One City, COPE, and NPA) occupied most of the 'almost elected spots - indicating that there was little public appetite for the more right wing splinter groups that emerged this campaign.

Morgane Oger did quite well for an Independent and ranked just between the mainstream political candidates and the more right wing splinter groups.  Oger ran on an explicit social justice campaign that brought issues like SOGI & SOGI 123 to the fore.

It will be intersting to see how this new school board works. I have no predictions as to who will end up the new chair, it could as easily be a Green as an NPA'er. For that matter I could see a possibility (slim though) of veteran trustee Alan Wong being presented as a choice for chair - but with the lowest winner tally, that would likely be quite a long shot. More of a possibility would be OneCity's Reddy coming up the middle between the Greens and the NPA.

But that is all a matter of speculation as we wait and see whether this new school board can become a more effective board than the one that was just replaced.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Short term rentals and the UNA Elections

In the recent Campus Resident resident candidates for UNA Board were asked to share their opinions on short term rentals.

The response from candidates can be broken into three general types:

(1) evidence based evaluation
(2) procedural and jurisdiction responsibility
(3) fear/worry/misconceptions

The only candidate to draw on an evidence-based evaluation of short term rentals was Victoria Bell. In her response to  the leading question as to whether short term rentals are damaging to community she said it is "not a black and white answer, but I feel that it would possibly help some faculty to stay."

All of the candidates focussed on aspects of procedural and jurisdictional responsibility. They all acknowledged that there are no formal restrictions or specific regulations on short term rental and most suggested that stratas are the best agent to make decisions over regulating short term rentals.

Matthew Delumpa went a bit further arguing that his experience in Vancouver leads him to believe that short term rentals has an influence on housing affordability and he proposes that the UNA work with UBC to set up a regulatory regime to govern short term rentals. There are fewer than a couple dozen short term rentals publicly listed in the UNA area.  How can a couple dozen short term rentals make housing unaffordable at UBC? I have lived (rented for the first decade; co-development resident for the second decade) on the UBC campus, I have been involved in faculty campaigns for affordable housing, and I currently serve on the UBC Board of Governors. From this vantage point I can see that the exorbitant cost of land and housing at UBC is a serious problem.  However, this is a problem that goes far beyond short term rentals or UBC.

Natalie Jaskevich differs and instead argues that the UNA should work with the stratas to enable them to regulate short term rentals building by building.

Terry Mullen, while expressing his belief that no rental should be less than two months, states that if the UNA were to get involved it would be an overreach of its proper jurisdiction.  This is a viewpoint shared by James Ellis.

The fear/worry/misconception category reveals a sense of worry common to communities undergoing significant change, disruption, and growth.

Ellis and Jatskevich express worries about security: "Short-term rentals can present challenges in terms of noise, security, property damage" says Ellis.  According to Jatskevich short term rentals create "concerns in regards to building security, common property damage, small property theft, noise level, littering, etc on the properties."  Where is the evidence for this?  It is easy to find news articles about offending short-term rental operators - in North Vancouver, in Yaletown, everywhere but UBC. As noted above there are barely a couple dozen short term rentals.  These claims may accurately reflect how people might feel in the absence of real experience, but they don't reflect the reality of short term rentals at UBC.

Mullens takes a slightly differnt tack on this file. He focuses solely on who benefits and comes to the conclusion that the community loses. It is not clear on how he comes to this conclusion. At UBC all of the short term operators I have spoken to describe their guests as people with direct ties to UBC: faculty coming in to teach a course, scholars attending conferences, parents and grandparents visiting family attending UBC, parents with their children visiting UBC as they decide on whether this is a welcoming place for their child.

From all the evidence that I can see there is no problem at UBC with short term rentals - yet, there is a general worry about disruption to a sense of community, feelings of belonging, worries about strangers.  These short term rental guests are just normal people like you and me, people are coming to UBC for work, study, and visiting family and friends. I've spoken to as many short term rental hosts that I can find and each of them says the same thing - where is the problem? There is often more noise from the neighbourhood children (which I enjoy), the rugby teams walking through eagle's park to the fields in the summer (which is one of the great things about campus), the marching band every other weekend along main mall (not so supportive of the marching band though), then there ever is from a short term rental guest.  The thing is that we already live in a complex dense urban environment that is filled with all kinds of 'disturbances.' The net effect of a short term rental is negligible in real material terms.  What is a more fundamental problem is the way that urban planners continuously up population density and try to squeeze more and more of us into smaller and smaller places - that's the real underlying problem that we are facing and the source of much of the anxiety.

Regulating a problem makes sense, regulating something that isn't a problem is a waste of time and money. I trust that my neighbours who have volunteered their time and effort to serve as  elected resident directors will reconsider their opinions that are based on misconceptions, talk to people who have real experience with short term rentals, and consider the ways that we can build community more effectively that includes short term rentals as one of the options available for people.