Less than 1% of Toronto homes are listed on Airbnb, but they’re hurting affordability

By: Jessica Mach on May 1, 2019

If you’re visiting Toronto and looking to rent out an entire unit via Airbnb instead of say, a single room, you’ll only be able to see listings for 0.8% of the city’s homes. That percentage may seem small, says one expert, but it’s having a big impact on housing affordability in Canada’s biggest city.

The number of Toronto units that belong to the short-term rental market — as negligible as it may seem — is “by far enough” to push housing and long-term rental prices up, according to David Wachsmuth, a McGill University professor who has been studying Airbnb for the past three years.

Why? Because when units that could be used for long-term rentals are leased on a short term basis instead, local residents are left with fewer stable housing options — and landlords can get away with charging more.

“It doesn't matter what's happening in 99 per cent of the houses that already have residents in them,” Wachsmuth told the CBC on Wednesday. “What matters is what are the apartments that are vacant and available for rent.”

Last year, the CBC discovered that more than 9,500 Airbnb listings in Toronto were managed by only 6,500 hosts — many of whom worked for multi-million dollar corporations. Airbnb has called such independently gathered figures “very unreliable” because they are based on the limited information available on the company’s public-facing website.

Still, it’s clear that Airbnb hosts are not only “ordinary people” interested in bringing in some extra cash when they’re out of town, as per the company’s vision. Instead, the company is also attracting those who want to make short-term rentals a primary source of income — and are willing to dedicate entire units to the cause, full-time.

With 2,300 Airbnb listings, the Waterfront Communities in downtown Toronto has the most short-term rentals available of any neighbourhood in the city, due to its proximity to tourist attractions. But less touristic neighbourhoods, like Little Portugal and Trinity-Bellwoods, are also seeing high volumes of Airbnb listings.

In 2017, the City of Toronto created a bylaw for short-term rental networks like Airbnb, shortly following the approval of a similar law in Vancouver. Under the regulations, homes can only be used as short-term rentals for no more than 180 days a year.

The bylaw still hasn’t gone into effect, partly because Airbnb appealed the Toronto motion to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. The hearing, which was originally scheduled for last August, has been rescheduled for this coming August.