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.

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