Toronto

New data shows just how many Airbnb listings were rented in Kensington Market last year

For the first time, neighbourhood-specific data shows Airbnb’s prominence in Kensington area

Kensington Airbnb

Key lock boxes at a Kensington Market apartment building that residents say has been converted almost exclusively to Airbnb listings. (Trevor Dunn/CBC )

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With a staff report on short-term rental regulation coming this month, CBC Toronto has obtained new, neighbourhood-specific data from Airbnb about one of its most popular — and problematic — destinations in the city: Kensington Market.

The data — the first of its kind released by Airbnb in Toronto — reveals the precise number of homes, apartments and rooms rented out last year in the quirky downtown neighbourhood where anti-Airbnb sentiment is growing along with the popularity of the platform.

According to Airbnb, 18,680 guests stayed in 464 different listings in the Kensington area in 2016.

Of those listings, 248 were entire homes or apartments and 216 were shared or private rooms in a home.

The data does not show how many days of the year each listing was rented or if the hosts are responsible for more than one property, which are two crucial concerns residents have.

"What we see in Kensington is really the same pattern we see in other neighbourhoods," Alexandra Dagg, Airbnb's public policy manager, said in an interview.

Alex Dagg

Alexandra Dagg, Airbnb Canada's public policy manager, says Torontonians are turning to the service to help make ends meet. (CBC)

"It's not anything different. We tend to have a significant majority of people sharing their primary residence. It's about 50 nights a year. It's a way for people to help make ends meet," Dagg said.

Airbnb uses City of Toronto boundaries to define neighbourhoods. The Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood is bordered by Bathurst Street, College Street, University Avenue and Queen Street.

"[The data] really shows that people are using this to help pay their rent, or help pay their mortgage, and help make ends meet. And these are citizens of Toronto who are using the platform in order to be able to live in Kensington," Dagg said.

While the data sheds light on Airbnb's prominence in Kensington, some community members say it leaves many unanswered questions and points to the difficulty of understanding and regulating the wildly popular home-sharing service.

'The life is being drained'

In April, Kensington residents organized a mock funeral procession to mourn the loss of rental housing.

Dominique Russell, the chair of the community group Friends of Kensington Market,helped organize the demonstration, She says there's been a "dramatic spike" in short-term rental activity of the past year.

Kensington march

A mock funeral procession in Kensington Market demonstrating against Airbnb in April. (Facebook/Friends of Kensington Market)

"It changes the feeling of the place," she said.

Russell says with Kensington's proximity to U of T and downtown hospitals there's always been home-sharing in the neighbourhood.

Kensington flyer

An anti-Airbnb flyer posted in Kensington Market. (Facebook/Friends of Kensington Market)

But there's concern that Airbnb has made the practice more lucrative and real estate investors are buying multiple properties to take advantage.

Long-term tenants are being lost to short-term tourists, Russell says.

"One of the things people love about Kensington is the life. And having that life depends on people living there and creating that life.The life is being drained out of it."

Who's benefiting?

According to the company, 450,000 Airbnb guests spent more than $417 million in Toronto last year.

"So it's providing a huge economic benefit for the city," Dagg said.

Of course, Airbnb is also benefiting. The San Francisco-based company is worth an estimated $31 billion US.

Kevin Makra, an Airbnb host who also runs a concierge service that manages other Airbnb listings, says home-sharing with the service is a way for Toronto residents to make extra money without necessarily having to work for it.

"It's wonderful side income," Makra said.

In business, "passive income" is money earned with minimal effort, such as through real estate or investments.

While wealthier individuals benefit greatly from passive income, much of the rest of society can only rely on "active income". Making more money means working more hours.

For hosts like Makra, Airbnb is a way of generating previously unavailable passive income.

"I don't want capitalists or corporations to come in and take over this. It's an individual thing where Torontonians are benefiting," Makra said.

Effect on rental market

For Coun. Joe Cressy, whose ward includes Kensington Market, Airbnb hosts who rent out a room in their home or an entire unit for a short period of time are not a concern.

"We have investors buying up properties, forcing out long term tenants and turning them into short term Airbnb rentals," Cressy said.

While the 464 homes and rooms rented on Airbnb in Kensington-Chinatown last year represent just a fraction of the private dwellings in the neighbourhood, there's concern that they're being siphoned from an increasingly tight rental market.

"What we don't know is how many of those are people who have bought a home and are renting it out for 365 days a year to multiple Airbnb clients," Cressy said.

While Airbnb could not provide neighbourhood-specific data on hosts with multiple listings, the company pointed to a 2016 report that showed 89 per cent of hosts manage just a single listing.

Cressy

Coun. Joe Cressy says Airbnb listings are pushing renters out of the Kensington Market neighbourhood. (CBC)

However, the remaining 11 per cent of hosts who, in 2016, managed two or more properties accounted for 30 per cent of all Airbnb listings.

Dagg, of Airbnb, adds: "Multiple listings does not mean multiple addresses. You can easily have three listings [at one address] that could be one bedroom, two bedrooms or your whole unit while you're away."

Still, Cressy and others say that in the Kensington area, a small group of Airbnb hosts is controlling more and more properties.

According to Fairbnb — a coalition of hospitality workers, tenants and resident associations — the number of hosts with multiple listings in Kensington is increasing. They include one host who operates 10 listings and another operateing eight "entire home" listings.

Fairbnb relies on data "scraped" from Airbnb's website for its information and therefore cannot guarantee it's entirely accurate.

trevor.dunn@cbc.ca

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