PEI

'Boisterous' public meeting on Charlottetown short-term rentals ended early by councillor

Charlottetown residents waited nearly 14 months for a public meeting on short-term rental regulations, and Coun. Mike Duffy ended it early Monday night when the crowd refused to stop applauding.

Duffy described meeting as a 'warm up' after 14 months of 'lying dormant'

The city offered free tickets for the 300-person event in order to maintain COVID-19 protocols. Many also participated through WebEx and the event was livestreamed on the city's YouTube page. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

Charlottetown residents waited nearly 14 months for a public meeting on short-term rental regulations, and Coun. Mike Duffy ended it early Monday night when the crowd refused to stop applauding.

The city had already presented its five possible scenarios for regulation in March of last year and a tentative public meeting was set for the end of that month. The city said the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant the gathering could not take place.

But on Monday night, nearly 300 members of the public were able to gather at the Confederation Centre, masked and socially distanced, to provide city council and staff with their thoughts on the regulation scenarios.

About 20 people spoke at the meeting.

"It's become very clear over the past couple of years that we have an affordable housing crisis in Charlottetown. That fact is undeniable. And we also believe it's undeniable that short-term rentals like Airbnb are directly contributing to this issue," Jill MacIntyre told CBC News after the meeting. 

She was also the first speaker.

"They've taken a lot of good housing off of the market."

314 STR units left after COVID

According to data presented by the city Monday night, as of last week there were 314 short-term rental (STR) units in the city, with about 40 per cent of the units south of Euston Street, in the downtown core. 

City staff also said this is down about 50 per cent from pre-pandemic numbers. In 2019 there were 834 units available for short-term vacation rentals in the city, which then dropped to 635 in September when the tourism season ended.

In its presentation, the city also shared that many of these units had come out of the long-term rental market. Using data combing officials found hundreds of units that were not registered with the city or province. 

Under the current guidelines, short-term rental operators are supposed to register with the province under the Tourism Act, as well as with the city, which comes with some levees and fees. 

I was really proud to see a lot of young people come out and really fight for our own communities, because at the end of the day, that's what we are doing.— Jill MacIntyre

"I've been operating for four years, there needs to be a limit to how many Airbnbs are allowed, how many of us are licensed. I've always said that," said Elizabeth Sheridan, who also spoke at the meeting and shared that she had two STRs in the city, one of which she lives in.

"I take care of my property and it's owner-occupied … It's helped me pay for some of the renovations and costs that are incurred. It takes me from basically the end of the fall to next spring for my income and I don't make a whole lot of money out of it."

Of the five options proposed, most citizens who spoke advocated for options one or two, which would not permit commercial STRs. The difference between the two options is whether or not apartments would be considered a primary residence available for rental.

"I don't really have a problem with any owner-occupied, I think that's what Airbnbs were originally intended to be … maybe they have like a basement unit or extra bedroom in a different part of the house, they can rent it to a tourist. There's nothing wrong with that," MacIntyre said.

"That doesn't impact housing, but where we see people buying multiple family houses on the Island, which has been happening, and making huge money off of it and taking that out of the long-term rental market, that's really unacceptable and is directly impacting the housing crisis."

Housing advocates held a rally outside before the consultation took place indoors. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

Sheridan also agreed that should not be allowed.

"You can't own 10 or more. I think that that's where the greed comes into play," she said. 

"You may as well go and buy a hotel … if that's really what you want to do, put the money out — which is millions of dollars — and just have a hotel." 

'They don't have options for housing anymore'

Both also agreed that housing affordability in the city has changed.

"Ultimately, a lot of young people and other marginalized people like the BIPOC community, the disabled community, anyone from a low-income background, they don't have options for housing anymore, so we have to accept housing that is unsafe and undignified and unaffordable," MacIntyre said.

"Some communities are actually building their own housing. I think that's an excellent opportunity. I think it also leads into the need for a living wage in Charlottetown."

A microphone was disinfected and run between people in attendance who wanted to speak. Not everyone was given the opportunity to speak before the meeting was cut short. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

 A recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concluded that Charlottetown's living wage — the hourly rate of pay at which people can afford to live in the city — is about $19.30. The Island's minimum wage increased to $13 last month. 

"One of the reasons why I got the house that I got when I got it was so that I can provide for my own family — and I wouldn't be able to afford it today, not the prices the Charlottetown has seen ... it's too far gone," Sheridan said.

"We have too many people coming in, if you want to regulate that, then the government —10 years ago — should have been building more housing … We're a rich country. There's no reason why we should not be employing people at 15 to 20 dollars an hour."

MacIntyre hopes the city takes steps now that the consultation has happened. 

Coun. Mike Duffy started the meeting by warning the audience that he would not tolerate a lack of decorum. He gave three warnings before ending the meeting early. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"I was really proud to see a lot of young people come out and really fight for our own communities, because at the end of the day, that's what we are doing," she said.

"It seems like the city council has just been kicking the can down the road as long as they can. And I kind of do believe that they've really taken advantage of the pandemic as a way to not deal with this issue."

Sheridan also expressed some frustration with the time council is taking on the issue.

"I think we're probably looking six to eight months before they come up with something, even though they say it's going to be sooner," Sheridan said.

"If they haven't come up with a resolution yet, who knows how much longer it's going to take."

City staff told the crowd another official meeting will be held before the issue goes back to city council for a final decision.

The city has budgeted $120,000 in STR-derived revenue in the current fiscal year.

Duffy ends meeting early

Coun. Duffy, chair of the planning board, was also the chair for the meeting. He started the event by asking the crowd to maintain decorum: no shouting, clapping or waving signs.

"All others are asked to show respect and decorum to all participants, so all will feel welcome," he said.

After the first public comments, including MacIntyre's, the audience was applauding. This sparked Duffy's first two warnings.

The event was scheduled to go until 9 p.m. and as the time neared, a speaker said they found the no clapping rule to be odd in a consultation and that it silenced people in a public forum — prompting more cheers and applause from the crowd.

"The reason for the clapping rule, some people aren't as confident as you are," Duffy told the speaker.

"When they get to a microphone, they find it intimidating for people to be booing them. It doesn't produce what we would call a balanced approach to the issue at hand.

"And by the way, I gave three warnings, that was the third warning. This meeting is adjourned."

Though several hands were still up to speak, the consultation ended. The audience again cheered and applauded and gradually filed out in a socially distanced manner.

The city does have a bylaw that prohibits "words, gestures or actions, including applauding, displaying flags, placards or similar material" during public meetings.

"When people understand why we don't want these distractions or these sorts of boisterous activities at a meeting such as that, it's an information gathering meeting that we had last night," Duffy said on Tuesday morning. 

"When we say information, we need information from people who are pro the idea and con the idea."

Duffy described the meeting as "odd" in that it was not part of the official path to creating a bylaw to regulate STRs in the city.

"It was more of a warm up after being 14 months of lying dormant," he said. "Now, we'll get back onto the normal path."

The councillor said the issue will need to go through the official steps and another public consultation will eventually be held before the city council votes on a bylaw.

Duffy did not want to commit to a timeline, but said a bylaw could maybe be in place by fall.

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola MacLeod grew up on P.E.I., where she is now a multi-platform reporter and producer for CBC. Got a story? Email nicola.macleod@cbc.ca

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