The public meeting about short-term rentals (STR) on Monday, 17 May, raised a number of issues centred around the commodification and financialization of housing. What does this mean? It means the conversion of housing from something that provides shelter, protection, privacy, space for personal and family activities into something that is bought and sold and used to make money. In other words, the value of a house as a real estate investment outweighs its importance as a place to live.
As a result, apartment rents and house prices have been pushed out of the affordability range for a growing number of residents.
“Housing has been financialized: valued as a commodity rather than a human dwelling, it is now a means to secure and accumulate wealth rather than a place to live in dignity, to raise a family and thrive within a community.”Lailani Farha, UN Human Rights Council (2017)
This led to a housing crisis and the Cityʼs response — without actually defining the precise nature of the crisis — has been to approve record numbers of building permits over the past couple of years. The Planning Department has used the “housing crisis” to justify its support for several controversial developments. Even developers work it into their applications to request (and justify) rezoning and variance applications.
What data did the City of Charlottetown have to legitimize the approval of so many applications and permits? In 2020, the Chair of the Planning Board Committee regularly quoted StatsCan figures to rationalize the development boom, rather than conduct its own housing needs assessment. A 2016 blog post by Bowen National Research describes the purpose and components of a housing needs assessment. It seems fairly straightforward, and should be regarded as a smart investment of public funds.
The Cityʼs zoning and development bylaw is another important component that affects community planning and development decisions. The bylaw contains requirements that could well be considered outdated, even exclusionary, in particular where minimum lot sizes and parking minimums are concerned. Removing these two requirements would do much to prevent urban sprawl (low-density residential development over more and more rural land), and let property owners decide the amount of parking they want.
In a 2017 statement, United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing (and Canadian) Leilani Farha reported that: “Financialization detaches housing from its connection to communities and to the human dignity and security that are at the core of all human rights.”
The individuals who spoke during the 17 May public meeting — many of them from the younger generations — were passionate in their desire to live in a vibrant, thriving, and safe city, yet expressed their anxieties, insecurities, and fears about the precariousness of living in Charlottetown.
Will this City Council and administration be willing and ready to make Charlottetown residents their priority when drafting the Short-term Rental bylaw?