In Squamish, it wasn’t until 2016 that Airbnb and other short-term rentals became a serious player in the accommodation marketplace.
Until then, homeowners only had one option for monetizing their real estate assets, making it available as a long-term rental.
What happened next was not surprising — some people began taking advantage of the system. Like any scandalous news story, media outlets were quick to create a narrative that to this day stands front and centre of most debates. Reports of people turned “entrepreneurs” through renting long-term rental units, only to list them as a short-term rental drew the ire of renters and governments.
Short-term rentals became an easy mark for the crosshairs of justice.
Unfortunately, most of what the media has sensationalized are the extreme outlying cases, the ones that are causing problems, but that brush has now been painted across all short-term rentals and their hosts. Squamish vacation rental hosts are also concerned that Squamish has a housing affordability problem, but believe this problem isn’t limited to long-term rentals. The correct way to fix long-term housing problems is by creating long-term housing legislation, purpose-built rental stock, and a housing authority, not by creating vacation rental legislation.
On average, home purchase prices rose much faster than rental prices over the same period from 2014 to 2019. This is also the period when vacation rentals came onto the market in Squamish.
The entire impetus for the new short-term rental bylaw is that the influx of inventory has harmed long-term inventory and pricing, but the data in the report from the SLRD contradicts that statement directly.
The District repeatedly calls out Squamish’s 0.3% vacancy rate as published by the CMHC. Digging deeper into the CMHC’s data, you will see that the 0.3% only represents purpose-built multi-level apartment buildings and purpose-built rental townhome complexes of three or more units.
Specifically, owner-occupied dwellings (including secondary suites and carriage houses) are excluded from this number. What is the actual vacancy rate? As of today, no one is capable of saying if Squamish has a long-term rental inventory problem. It’s a scary place to be when you are creating legislation to fix a problem that may not exist and that you don’t understand.
Contrary to public statements by Coun. Doug Race and Mayor Karen Elliott, before January 2018, short-term rentals were, in fact, legal in Squamish in most residential zoning.
Bed and breakfasts, as well as accessory boarding, have been legal for as long as you can find bylaws about it.
It wasn’t until a council meeting on Dec. 5, 2017, when staff added “ban language” to the new secondary suite bylaw, originally intended to promote the construction of additional secondary suites and carriage houses.
The entire purpose of the bylaw changed in an instant and with little public information about the change in intent, the bylaw was adopted and short-term rentals were banned in January of 2018.
There is a better way to do this, by grandfathering short-term hosts who are local residents and responsible for the majority of the direct tourism spend in Squamish. This creates a local, circular economy that benefits everyone. It will prevent us from eviscerating the tourism economy and supports residents, both homeowners and renters alike. It’s just sad that our council is not seeing that option and instead wants to risk our community’s future on nothing more than assumptions.