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Short-term rentals in Lunenburg generated $1.3 million in revenue in 2018

Yashika Sally (pictured) and her family spent over seven months looking for a long-term rental before finding an apartment. She said she’s thankful to have found an apartment.
Yashika Sally (pictured) and her family spent over seven months looking for a long-term rental before finding an apartment. She said she’s thankful to have found an apartment. - Josh Healey

Airbnbs impacting affordable housing?

Housing construction in Lunenburg has been slowing to near record lows - a fact that’s forced residents and businesses to adapt.

Yashika Sally moved from India to be with her family in Lunenburg in July 2018.

They spent seven months searching for an apartment in town which met their needs.

However, Sally said there were few places in town offering a year-round lease or that were near her work.

“If there (was) any affordable housing, it’s outside of Lunenburg where we (couldn’t) stay because we don’t have anything to commute (with),” she said.

Sally and her family have since found an apartment, but she says she's spoken to other newcomers who had similar difficulties.

“We’re very thankful for the people who helped us find the apartment,” she added.

Business impact

Businesses have also been forced to find solutions to the town’s lack of affordable housing.

Mike Mawhinney, owner of the Old Fish Factory, said housing prices have made it harder to staff his restaurant.

The Old Fish Factory typically employs around 50 people during the summer months.

“At the end of the day, our labour pool is such that it's becoming a bigger and bigger challenge to attract people to the area. You’re kind of forced to go elsewhere to find your employees,” he said.

He’s had a potential employee decline a job offer because he couldn’t find suitable housing.

To combat the issue, Mawhinney said he had purchased a house in town which he rents to employees; he expects the house to be full this summer.

“The demand is there,” he said of the town’s rental prices.

Near-record lows

As per a discussion paper released for Project Lunenburg, the town’s housing situation is at a crossroads.

For years, the town’s housing stock had been growing at a rate of about four units per year, with a construction boom following the Second World War; 2015 saw just two units built, matching near-record lows.

Exactly one-third of the town’s housing stock was built before 1900.

“Though community feedback indicates demand, development has lagged. This suggests a barrier of some time, either regulator or economic,” stated the discussion paper.

Seasonal residences have also been on the rise.

According to the numbers, seasonal residences jumped from 10 per cent of town dwellings in 2011 to 14 per cent in 2016.

Short-term rental listings were another topic discussed in the paper, chronicling a meteoric rise in homeowners renting out rooms. These included options like Airbnbs and HomeAway.

According to Airbnb.ca, the company began in 2008, when two designers who had space to share hosted three travellers looking for a place to stay. Now, millions of hosts and travellers choose to create free Airbnb accounts so they can list their space and book unique accommodations anywhere in the world - including along Nova Scotia's south shore.

The local market surged from two listed short-term rentals to 88 between 2016 and 2018, a 4,300 per cent change.

“Based on broader trends, this growth is expected to continue in the near future,” summarized the paper.

In total, Airbnb activity in town posted $1.3 million in revenue in 2018.

Rising tourism, rising costs

Nancy Green, a spokesperson for the South Shore Housing Action Coalition (SSHAC), said the town’s growing tourism industry could continue to affect affordable housing prices.

“Anecdotally, there seems to be a sense that the growth in short-term and vacation rental accommodations is contributing to the decreased availability of affordable and long-term rental accommodation,” she said.

Green added the town’s many restaurants, shops and festivals make the town an attractive place to live and visit.

However, as demand goes up, prices rise.

“What we have heard from some business owners is that employees are finding it difficult to access affordable housing options near their place of employment,” she said.

“It also means that the housing market for both rental and ownership has become more competitive.”

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