Head of neighbourhood coalition opposing Vancouver housing strategy accused of running illegal Airbnb

By ThinkPol Staff

The head of a coalition of Vancouver neighbourhood groups opposing City of Vancouver’s recently unveiled housing strategy stands accused of running an illegal Airbnb operation.

The City of Vancouver’s Housing Vancouver report[1]http://council.vancouver.ca/20171128/documents/rr1.pdf outlines a strategy for densifying more affluent low-density neighbourhoods like Kerrisdale to add 72,000 housing units.

This the includes the addition of as many 12,000 low-income units, and 24,000 new rental units including 4,000 laneway homes.

Housing Vancouver also sets a target 36,000 additional affordable condos, townhouses and coach houses for first-time homebuyers, families, and downsizing seniors.

Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, which represents 27 individual residents’ groups, opposes the City of Vancouver’s plan on the grounds that “focus on additional supply through up zoning has proven to be one of the primary contributors to increased land inflation and undermines our shared objective of improving housing affordability.”[2]http://coalitionvan.org/posts/cvn-to-council-housing-vancouver-strategy/

But critics are questioning the credibility of Dorothy Barkley, the co-chair of the coalition, after it emerged that Barkley turned one of her suites into an illegal Airbnb hotel last year[3]https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4137579.

“The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods has consistently lobbied against change, and I suspect its constituents are older homeowners who do not directly feel the bite of the housing crisis,” Vancouverite Alec Smecher told ThinkPol. “I’m sure many of these people worked hard to reach financial security, but I think they’re blind, sometimes willfully, to the unprecedented hardships that less-fortunate and younger Vancouverites are facing.”

Critics argue that Barkley’s letter to the Mayor and Council of Vancouver is especially hypocritical.

“Retaining current rental stock receives relatively little attention, despite being the most affordable option for residents,” the letter authored by Barkley and the other co-chair Larry Benge reads. “Retaining character houses by encouraging secondary suites that can provide additional rental housing and mortgage helper income will have less impact on land inflation than demolition and new larger developments.”

If Barkley really cared about increasing the rental stock by encouraging secondary suites, she should not have turned her own secondary suite into an illegal Airbnb hotel, critics point out.

“I rent, and have been forced to move several times in the last years,” Smecher added. “I’m fortunate to be well employed and weathered the stress and cost, but consider the recent news story about two senior women living in a borrowed van in North Vancouver.”

“As prices increase and units are taken off the rental market, I’m not the kind of person who is being ejected from the bottom; they are,” Smecher said. “Homeowners like Ms. Barkley are playing an active role.”

Smecher feels that the City of Vancouver’s housing strategy should’ve been introduced much earlier.

“The City of Vancouver, like all levels of government, is now trying to catch up after years of indefensible neglect,” Smecher said. “The time to have solved the housing crisis was proactively, when there was credible evidence that a combination of factors were creating a monster ‒ AirBnB, foreign capital, failed industry self-regulation, criminality, and inflationary financial policy.”

“Tackling this would have required political risk-taking and it was probably easier to wait,” Smecher added. “Now the housing crisis literally has a death toll associated with it. While all levels of government are finally turning activist, it’s cold comfort to those who
are homeless, or left their home city for greener pastures, or stayed and suffered.”

Barkley’s Airbnb listing boasts of “Private entrance to a charming upstairs suite in a heritage Craftsman house in Vancouver’s vibrant & eclectic Commercial Drive. It is a short walk to over 100 restaurants & a mix of shops, while the Vancouver East Cultural Centre and its live theatre is but steps away.”

Smecher feels that Vancouver homeowners ought to be more sensitive to the plight of the city’s underhoused.

“I attended the hearings at City Hall and heard many home-owners saying the same thing: they’d like someone to do something about the crisis, but only if it doesn’t affect their side gig,” Smecher said. “They spoke with horror about the personal financial catastrophe that would follow any AirBnB regulation. Those homeowners need to understand that they’re staring into the maelstrom that the rest of us already live in, as we try to raise our kids, live our lives, and build our communities.”

All short-term rentals in entire homes/apartments are currently banned in Vancouver[4]http://vancouver.ca/doing-business/short-term-rentals.aspx.

Even under the new regulations coming into force next April, Airbnb units in secondary suites will remain illegal.

Dorothy Barkley told ThinkPol that she only started offering her upstairs suite on Airbnb after her four children left for university, and that she continues to rent out her basement suite to long-term tenants.

Barkley insists that she is unable to offer the suite long term as she needs to keep it available for when her children come to visit.

Barkley added that as a retiree without a pension, she needs the Airbnb income to afford her home and offer the basement suite to long-term tenants.

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References   [ + ]

1. http://council.vancouver.ca/20171128/documents/rr1.pdf
2. http://coalitionvan.org/posts/cvn-to-council-housing-vancouver-strategy/
3. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4137579
4. http://vancouver.ca/doing-business/short-term-rentals.aspx

8 Responses to Head of neighbourhood coalition opposing Vancouver housing strategy accused of running illegal Airbnb

  1. Dorothy D. Barkley says:

    I hope to clear up some information that seems to be circulating.

    I moved into my house in 2005 with 4 teenagers and pets. As my children grew up and left for university, I let the basement suite as a long term rental and have ever since. One remaining child, lives upstairs when not in university. My daughter is in University overseas. My office space is upstairs & forms part of my primary residence. I keep the bedroom available for family and friends. When I am able I let it as an STR to assist me with my expenses.

    With regard to the Coalition, the Coalition has never been against densification, rather it believes that density can be achieved with thoughtful development, and without the loss of the character, diversity & affordability that has been the hallmark of Vancouver. The Coalition has also argued for meaningful consultation with constituents by the City and the recent letter speaks to the CVN’s concerns.

    • Alec Smecher says:

      Hi, Dorothy, and thanks for responding.

      In 2015 I responded to a Craigslist ad for your basement suite. I applied for it and you ended up giving it to someone else. That’s fine, we found another place.

      While I was there, you said you had another suite available — the upstairs one — and gave me a tour of it. I don’t know whether you ended up renting it long-term, but I do think it’s fair to characterize it as a separate unit that was available long-term but has since converted to an AirBnB.

      • Canuckle says:

        Her Airbnb listing described it as an “entire suite”, with its own front door access, bathroom, kitchen etc…

        Listing is now gone, but photos showed a suite that a local easily could have lived in. It rented for a potential $3300 a month VIA Airbnb, and that’s in off-season

    • KW says:

      Airbnb’s are illegal in Vancouver.

  2. Dorothy Barkley says:

    Alec, I wonder if you are confusing my house with my neighbour’s house, which has 4 floors which she rented out until it was sold, and which continues as a rental. I rent the ground level of my house and it was rented until this summer when it transitioned to new tenants, but my top floor is not for rent and I cannot imagine showing it to anyone as a rental. It has never been empty and I have not listed it for rent as I have all my personal furnishings on that floor which I routinely access. An old house, such as mine, is a house that doesn’t offer any extra space so all those things that I have & use regularly, (desks, files, computer, printer, sewing materials, clothing etc.) cannot find another place in my house. That and my children do use it when they return home, as do other members of my family & friends when they come to town, which is why I would not empty the space to rent as a long term rental – it is part of my living space and will always be held for that purpose.

    • Alec Smecher says:

      Hi Dorothy,

      No, I’m not thinking of your neighbour’s house. If you check your emails from June 2015 you’ll find our correspondence there (regarding the basement/ground floor suite).

      I can’t know how serious the offer for rent of the upstairs suite was, but you did offer it to me.

  3. Ryan says:

    I wonder if Dorothy will be so adamant about rents when she is a few years older and her children can’t afford to live anywhere near her. My mother is a widow and none of her kids can afford to live anywhere near where she lives. Dorothy represents the NIMBY semi-seniors I meet all the time in Vancouver. I have my house and I make a ton of money why should I care kids can’t live anywhere I don’t want you increasing densification that would affect my house value. Make them live in basement suites so I can have a nicer view. Her tune will change when she closes in on 70 and her kids are all living out of province or in her house.

    • Cody says:

      It is a bit funny this line of thinking. My family all used to live in South Surrey. My grandparents are the only ones that remain, as my sister and parents can no longer afford to live there. Even as they lament about their family no longer living nearby, in their next breath they decry densification around them as if somebody should instead fill in the ocean for more single family homes.

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