Vancouver City manager runs thriving Airbnb on island facing housing crunch

Vancouver’s City manager is running a thriving Airbnb on Cortes Island – a small island dealing with a crushing housing crisis caused by homeowners listing properties on short-term rentals instead of renting them long term to residents.

Sadhu Aufochs Johnston and his wife Manda Aufochs Gillespie have converted their second home on the island to the “Rainbows End Guest House”[1]

Reviews for the listing show that Airbnb has been busy throughout the year despite the pandemic, with Johnston and Gillespie welcoming guests from as far away as the United Kingdom.

Johnston, who has been in charge of the plan to make Vancouver the “greenest city” in the world by 2020 his mission, regularly flies into work from the island located between Vancouver Island and the mainland coast of British Columbia.

“Housing reports demonstrate that it is difficult to secure an affordable, long-term rental
on Cortes, partly because of the number of properties listed on short-term rental websites (particularly in the summer months),” the Strathcona Regional District, the local government responsible for Cortes Island, reported last year[2] “This causes stress for island residents who wish to have a home base but find themselves evicted at the start of the tourism season, or who have to pay exorbitant rents to remain in place.”

Johnston himself has acknowledged the issue, and has written to the regional district in support of increasing density to add more housing supply on Cortes Island.

“I am the City Manager in Vancouver, but I live on Cortes with my wife and two children. I am very familiar with the challenges of changing land use to increase housing,” Johnston wrote to the regional district board. “I am also very familiar with the extreme challenges that are the result of limited affordable housing.”

“Cortes is in dire need of more housing, particularly for non-profit rental housing for island residents with low-to-moderate incomes,” Johnston adds. “Low-to-moderate income earners on Cortes are living in very substandard and temporary housing. To support these island residents to stay on Cortes, we need attainable housing for them.”

Meanwhile, recent data suggests that more than half of all Airbnb listings in Vancouver appear to break City of Vancouver’s short-term rental rules[3]

The City also came under fire for allocating half of all the seats on a short-term rental advisory panel to Airbnb hosts, including scofflaws.

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