UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated that Jasper would be spending $80 million to bring 40 housing units online for residents. Instead the city will be spending $20 million to bring the 40 housing units online.
With strict limits on developments in the national park and a decades-long shortage of available housing in Jasper, even a small number of units being lost to short-term rental markets can make it harder for locals to find a place to live.
The Jasper Employment and Education Centre recently concluded a labour market study that looked at barriers to keeping enough people in town. The study highlights issues around accommodation, and recommends the town look seriously at increasing affordable housing, director Heidi Veluw said.
“If we want a strong labour market in Jasper, we have to ensure that there is appropriate and accessible housing for people,” Veluw said.
“Definitely, the committee and people on the committee have talked about short-term rentals and how that takes a percentage of rental suites off the market,” Veluw said.
Though concerns have been raised over short-term rental listings and their contribution to the local housing crunch, Veluw questioned how a policy could be implemented “so that more and more suites don't turn into lucrative Airbnbs.”
“You have to have a plan, and you have to enforce it,” she said.
In many ways, Jasper is ahead of the curve when it comes to regulating platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, said Mayor Richard Ireland.
“The situation is so different in Jasper than it is, I think, in most other jurisdictions,” Ireland said.
“It does admittedly have some impact on residential availability. And that's an issue that we grappled with. But I don't think it is the same as those jurisdictions that see outside buyers buying up entire homes and blocks and sometimes apartment buildings and converting them all to overnight accommodation or short-term rentals.”
In Jasper, there is an allowance for something called “private home accommodation,” which requires leaseholders to get a licence from the town to rent out up to two separate rooms to the visiting public, Ireland explained.
“If you look at B.C., for example, I think they're bringing in legislation that says you have to live in the house in order to rent part of it as an Airbnb. Well, that's always been the rule in Jasper.”
B.C. introduced legislation in October limiting short-term rentals to suites within a host’s home or laneway homes on the same property. The new rules also come with hefty fines of up to $3,000 per infraction, per day, for hosts breaking municipal bylaws.
There are just over 100 short-term rentals listed on online platforms like Airbnb, with an average annual revenue of $64,000, according to rental analytics firm AirDNA. Seventy per cent of these rentals are listed as “entire home,” and offer private suites complete with kitchens, which is more than is allowed under the rules for private accommodation set out by Parks Canada.
Ireland said he couldn’t comment on the accuracy of the online listings, but that anyone operating an Airbnb is still subject to local rules and could face serious repercussions if they break them.
“The heaviest hammer is that they could lose their lease,” Ireland said. “All of the land in the national park is held ultimately by His Majesty and right of Canada and it has been leased, in this case, we’ll say to a residential homeowner. The homeowner is subject to the regulations and other practices and policies of Parks Canada that are in place. So ultimately, the federal Crown could take an action to deprive somebody of their leasehold interest.
“I mean, that would be an extreme case. But that's the heaviest hammer that could be unleashed for non-compliance.”
While other towns in Alberta can annex land from the surrounding county for residential developments, Jasper's town boundary is confirmed in an appendix to the Canada National Parks Act, and would require an act of parliament to change, Ireland said. The town is currently working with Parks Canada to release some reserve land held within the existing boundary to create affordable housing units.
“We're looking at about an $20 million project to bring 40 units online for residents,” he said.
“The private home accommodation or short-term rental issue plays a part for sure. But it is not a major component of a problem that has persisted in our community for decades. And most of that is based on land supply and general housing availability overall.”