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As usage rises, Airbnb denies its service is harming Vancouver rental market

The work of local researchers has suggested Airbnb has reduced the number of available rental units in Vancouver, which currently has a vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent.

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

The number of Airbnb listings booked in the City of Vancouver has more than tripled since 2013, reaching approximately 6,400 last year – but the company says it's making it possible for residents to afford their homes, pushing back on claims it's negatively affecting the rental market.

The statistics are included in a report the San Francisco-based company was set to release Thursday amid a debate about the impact its service has had on Vancouver's housing market. The work of local researchers has suggested Airbnb has reduced the number of available rental units in the city, which currently has a vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent. Housing experts have said a healthy vacancy rate is 3 per cent to 5 per cent.

City staff members are expected to report to council on the service's impact in September.

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Airbnb, an online service that helps users rent out their homes or rooms, recently sent the city data on its presence in Vancouver.

Airbnb's report says it has more than 4,200 active hosts in the city.

The report says Airbnb's "typical" Vancouver host earns $6,500 via hosting on an annual basis. It says 53 per cent of Vancouver hosts "report being able to afford to stay in their homes because of the money they earned through Airbnb."

When asked in an interview about its impact on the Vancouver rental market, Max Pomeranc, public-policy manager at Airbnb, said: "The majority of people are simply just renting their home on occasion.

"And if you're renting your own home, and you're doing this a few times a month or a few times a year, it's hard for me to imagine how you're having that kind of an impact."

The report shows how quickly the service has grown in Vancouver. Of the 6,400 listings booked last year, 4,400 were for entire homes, while 1,800 were for private rooms. About 200 were for shared rooms.

Three years ago, 1,300 of the 1,800 total booked listings were for entire homes. Total booked listings refer to listings that were booked at least once.

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The report says 35 per cent of listings were used to host between one and 30 nights last year. Eighteen per cent of listings hosted between 31 and 60 nights, while 11 per cent hosted between 61 and 90 nights.

Just less than 20 per cent of listings were used to host for half of the year, or more.

Mr. Pomeranc said the growth in Vancouver is consistent with what Airbnb has seen in Toronto and Montreal, though it did not provide data for those cities.

He said Airbnb wants to work with the City of Vancouver and stakeholders to ensure "good, smart rules" are put in place.

"We believe that regulations and legislation are an important piece of making home-sharing work for all of our hosts, and our guests, and the city," he said.

Geoff Meggs, a Vancouver city councillor who had not seen the Airbnb report, said in an interview he was not surprised by its growth. He said it reflects what he has been hearing elsewhere.

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Mr. Meggs, however, was skeptical of the claim more than half of Vancouver's Airbnb hosts were only able to afford to stay in their homes because of money earned through the service.

Airbnb said that data were obtained through a survey in which approximately 230 hosts responded.

Mr. Meggs said he believes Airbnb has had an impact on Vancouver's rental market.

"Even the addition of 500 to 1,000 units to the supply would be very significant," he said.

Karen Sawatzky, an urban studies master's student at Simon Fraser University who last year released a report on Airbnb in Vancouver, said in an interview the company's business model "puts tenants in a more precarious position."

"It provides a profit incentive to property owners to rent their units out to tourists instead of tenants on a full-time basis," she said. "… I think it's definitely something to be concerned about."

The report says 70 per cent of Airbnb's Vancouver guests last year were from outside Canada, 12 per cent from B.C. and 18 per cent from elsewhere in Canada.

The report says Airbnb's guests stayed in Vancouver longer than "traditional" guests – an average of 5.5 nights to 4.8 nights. It also said 33 per cent of the 231 guests it surveyed said they would not have come to Vancouver or stayed as long if not for Airbnb.

A report by a University of British Columbia student researcher earlier this year said commercial operators were taking in 77 per cent of the Airbnb revenue in Vancouver.

Airbnb's report said 13 per cent of entire home listings in Vancouver last year were operated by hosts with four or more listings. Mr. Pomeranc said some of those listings could include boutique hotels.

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