News / Canada

Does Airbnb hurt Vancouver’s rental stock? SFU student mines data

Vancouver homeowners are increasingly renting out their places on Airbnb, according to an extensive data analysis that gives a first glimpse into the online rental hub’s impact on the city’s rental housing supply.

There were 3,473 properties listed on the short-term rental site as of June 1, an increase of 20 per cent from six months prior, according to the research by Simon Fraser University urban studies master’s student Karen Sawatzky.

Sawatzky, a long-term renter, started exploring whether Airbnb removes units from the city’s rental stock after hearing anecdotes about homeowners forgoing long-term tenants to rent to higher-paying Airbnb visitors, a lucrative move that can make it even harder for renters to find a place in a city where vacancy rates hover around zero.

Airbnb is tight-lipped with its data, but Sawatzky scraped the information from its website with help from a friend who can write code. There are too many unknown variables to provide a definitive answer on how many units Airbnb takes out of the rental stock, but Sawatzky’s data revealed information that could be useful for policymakers.

While many homes are clearly rented by people when they are on vacation, Sawatzky found that owners with more than one listing accounted for 35 per cent of the available units. Since owners can only have one primary residence, that means at least 834 units on Airbnb could potentially be used for long-term rentals.

Most of the units available are clustered in neighbourhoods such as the West End and Kitsilano that are very desirable for residents and have vacancy rates below 0.5 per cent, Sawatzky found.

While there are flaws in the data – for instance, a house with two rooms available can show up as two listings and some owners who use Airbnb might choose not to have long-term tenants – Sawatzky is hopeful it will encourage the city to investigate what cities such as San Francisco have done to address the issue.

“It may be only a small piece of the puzzle in terms of addressing affordability and supply… but we’ve got a really serious issue here with affordability,” she said. “This is one of the ways the city could consider looking at.”

Read Sawatzky's 10,000-word post on her research here.