To be honest with you, I like Airbnbs. They can make traveling more affordable, offer unique stays in unlikely places and give homeowners a little additional income; what’s not to like? It’s only been the last couple of weeks that I’m starting to reconsider my answer to that question, and the journey started in an unlikely place.
I’ve committed some time to having conversations with the people in Summerside’s soon closing Heritage Park. That time spent has made one thing very clear: there are a number of homeowners who could use some help in this transition. Between the cost of moving their trailers, the lack of options for places to move their trailer to, or the inability of some older structures to be moved safely, a significant portion of people in this community will have no real choice but to sell their homes (often for a fraction of what they paid for them), and look for a rental option.
The refrain I’ve heard again and again is ‘waiting list’. So many people find themselves with nowhere to go. It didn’t take much work to confirm this. Some waiting lists are 100 people long. Province-wide, we know there are about 650 individuals and couples on the waiting list for affordable seniors units, and nearly that number again awaiting affordable family units. In a province of our size, that’s significant. Like the province, our population in Summerside has grown in recent years, but it hasn’t swelled to unsustainable proportions, so where are all the rental units? I could locate a handful of apartments and houses for rent in Summerside, (though most outside the price range of seniors and others on fixed incomes) but I noted with interest that I could easily locate 267 Airbnb options in the greater Summerside area alone. I cannot help noticing a disconnect when there are families waiting for housing with no real options, but dozens and dozens of apartments and houses sitting available to tourists. Tourism is an important industry for our province, but we need to be encouraging a sustainable tourist accommodation industry that also preserves our year-round rental stock for residents as well.
It’s no wonder other jurisdictions are moving towards creating regulations to preserve their long-term rental supply. I don’t know exactly what those regulations should look like, but it’s time to have that conversation. An open dialogue can ensure that regulations strike a balance between encouraging tourism and private enterprise, and ensuring long-term housing options exist for Islanders who need them.
Lynne Lund is the deputy leader of the Green Party of PEI and the shadow critic for Economic Development and Tourism.