Airbnb: What’s a City to do?

Airbnb has taken the city and world by storm and provides many with the opportunity to list, find and rent homes short-term.

It has given life to a new kind of landlord. Homeowners are able to list their home – be it a condo, house or another form of abode (anyone for a houseboat?) – and visitors can take advantage of a short-term cost effective way to visit or move to a new city. Most recently, Syrian refuges were welcomed into the city and took advantage of this service while getting settled in, and Airbnb helped make that transition smoother while adjusting to the city. This service is wonderful for those who are in an interim situation who need to find housing quickly, or tourists looking for an alternative to the traditional hotel options.

The flip side to the expansion of the short-term rental market is that some community members in popular areas feel like that sense of neighbourhood and community is lost as a result of such a high turn over rate of renters. Not only is the community feel potentially disappearing, Airbnb is presenting more challenges for long-term renters with less and less apartment inventory available throughout the GTA. Some owners are even evicting their long-term tenants for the potential of more financial gain.

Some city councillors are suggesting there is a need for more education initiatives to ensure all parties involved know what is within their rights when participating in a sharing economy. With the emergence of this “sharing economy,” where companies like Airbnb and Car2Go offer alternatives to traditional transportation and housing options, consumers are able to share items and services for an affordable fee. Not unlike the “Uber problem” from the past couple years, cities and business owners were resistant to to changes to the traditional delivery of services. However with growing popularity from users and residents, the city had to adapt and give the people what they want, and regulations were created and implemented to ensure a healthy evolution of Toronto’s economic landscape. We see varieties of sharing services popping up throughout other sectors too: Bunz, a virtual community that strictly operates on a bartering system, encourages consumers to trade items between users where no money is exchanged.

The reality is the way residents are interacting and living in the city has changed. So, the city needs to take this evolution into consideration and adapt. With the emergence of this new economic paradigm, a shift in life values and how people interact with their city is highlighted. In the past, the focus was on owning possessions whereas now, residents are living with more flexibility, hoping to gather memorable life experiences over the previously traditional life stages like buying a car, owning a cottage or having a house with a white picket fence. Ultimately, Airbnb could be seen as a game changer in the city’s real estate market.

So, what are some of the lessons learned from the acceptance of services like Car2Go or Uber, and can they be applied to Airbnb? With these evolving services quickly gaining popularity in the city, what is a solution that will please all parties like community members, business owners and city councillors?