Toronto Star real estate reporter Tess Tess Kalinowski quoted Broker of Record Treat Hull as part of a May 17, 2019 feature story Prince Edward County grapples with housing shortage amid Airbnb boom:
Craig Foster knows first-hand about the short-term rental issues in Prince Edward County. Following his divorce about three years ago, he struggled to find a suitable rental home.
“I was forced to bounce into three different apartments in the span of two years because there was nothing available for more than three months at a stretch,” said the news director at community radio station 99.3 County FM.
“I’ve got two little girls and I’m having to take these little Airbnb places just to have somewhere to bring my little girls to and having to move every few months,” he said.
More recently, his other daughter, 20, has left to live in Deseronto, a town east of the County, with her partner and new baby because they couldn’t find somewhere affordable closer to her family, he said.
Short-term rentals have been blamed for reducing Toronto’s tight housing stock, and turning some condos into “ghost hotels” that undercut the traditional accommodation business.
But in Toronto’s summer playground to the east, the issue of short-term accommodation is more complicated. At its peak, there were 1,500 short-term rental listings in Prince Edward County. That’s about 9 per cent of dwellings in the area, say county officials. Eighty per cent, or 1,200 of those, are entire homes. Only 20 per cent are owner occupied or traditional bed and breakfasts.
On one hand, there aren’t many big hotels in the County, so the rentals provide beds for the tourists who increasingly flock to its beaches, wineries and farm-to-table eateries.
“I was forced to bounce into three different apartments in the span of two years,” says Craig Foster, the news director at community radio station 99.3 County FM.
On the other, they can irritate locals and have reduced the already tight housing supply to the point where employers cite the scarcity as the biggest barrier to attracting workers to grow their businesses.
A county staff report last year indicates a Toronto-like 0.81 per cent vacancy rate “and greater demand for housing than the current residential development market can support.”
Year-round residents say short-term accommodations have helped drive up real-estate prices in bucolic, flower-box towns such as Wellington, Bloomfield and Picton, and brought unwelcome late-night noise, towering campfires, overflowing parking and garbage.
Add to that the issues with septic systems in homes that are being overoccupied by holiday makers and neighbourhoods that go dark once the visitors leave because the homeowners don’t live in town.
Airbnb, considered to be the largest short-term rental site, says it had 900 listings in Prince Edward County last year. Hosts in the area typically rented their accommodations for 43 nights a year at an average rate of $150 a day.
Guerin and Jessica Sykes in their new Picton, Ont., restaurant The Marans. They say the competition for restaurant staff is tough and some larger establishments even provide housing for their employees.
“Imagine a 10 per cent shift in the housing supply in Toronto,” says Picton realtor and former county councillor Treat Hull. There are about 11,000 dwellings in the County. If 1,000 are being used as short-term accommodation that “has been a really significant shift,” he says from a corner seat with a view of Lake Ontario at the Drake Devonshire Hotel in Wellington.
With its hipster vibe, locally based menus, events and lakeside views, the Drake’s arrival about five years ago helped ignite the County’s recently booming status as a vacation destination. Its popularity has also helped make Wellington the Ground Zero for short-term rentals, Hull said.
Until about five years ago, his real estate clients tended to be retirees. Now they are frequently mid-career professionals and artists, who aren’t ready to give up the city altogether. Meantime, he said, they want to buy income-generating properties.
But long-term residents worry about the impact on their towns with so many absentee homeowners.
“If a big number of the houses on your block are transient, your sense of community is eroded,” Hull said.
There are more than 1,500 housing units in some stage of development in Prince Edward County to be built over the next 10 years, Hull said. “It’s a massive number,” even if only 100 a year actually materialize, given that for many years only 25 new homes would be built, he said.
Hull was still on council last October when the county passed an official plan and zoning bylaw amendment to address concerns about short-term accommodation (STA). A licensing system is being refined and will likely go before council for approval this summer, said Paul Walsh, county planning manager.
Under the amendments, no more than 15 per cent of homes in a given area will be permitted to operate as STAs. Traditional bed-and-breakfast operations and STAs where the long-term owner lives on site aren’t included in the 15 per cent but will likely have to comply with the coming licensing provisions. The 15 per cent rule has been grandfathered so any property that can prove it was being used as a rental prior to October can continue to operate. The bylaw is applied to the address rather than the property owner. But new operators will have to apply for a licence contingent on inspections such as fire and safety.
Walsh said that will help weed out landlords who are renting out campers and bunkies that aren’t permitted as STAs.
Walsh said the rules are about balance. The planning and zoning amendments were intended to protect the housing supply while still allowing accommodations for tourists.
Development is coming to the County, Walsh said, citing an exponential increase in the number of applications. But he said it will be at least a couple of years before new housing supply alleviates the shortage of housing.
Meantime, enforcing the new bylaw and licensing provisions will be important, he said.