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Winners vs. losers: Ottawa’s Airbnb crackdown

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Potentially hundreds of short-term rental hosts are on the cusp of being strong-armed out of Ottawa’s accommodation market as the municipal government moves closer to adopting new restrictions.

The community and protective services committee on Friday will be asked to endorse a proposal to heavily regulate short-term accommodations, many of which are advertised on platforms like Airbnb and Expedia. Council on Nov. 27 is scheduled to vote on whatever the committee recommends.

The most controversial regulation for short-term rentals proposed by staff is banning people from renting homes in which they don’t live.

Councillors will hear both sides of the debate when public delegates line up at the microphone during the committee meeting.

With every policy decision made by city council, there will be winners and losers.

Winner: Hotels

Travellers who have been renting homes not occupied by the owners for short stays would need to turn to Ottawa’s hotel market for accommodations.

Steve Ball, president of the 55-member Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, said the city’s proposal “mostly got it right” when it comes to regulating short-term rentals.

Hotel operators aren’t against Airbnb when it comes to the company’s original intention of allowing people to make available their own homes for short-term accommodations, Ball said.

“What they don’t like is the commercialization of Airbnb and the ghost hotel concept,” Ball said.

Ball said he believes the per-night costs of hotel rooms in Ottawa-Gatineau are on par with what hosts offer on Airbnb. According to Ball, the average hotel room rate for the first nine months of 2019 was $152.

Loser: Investor hosts

The city’s proposed recommendations probably make the investor hosts — those property owners who rent homes for short terms, but don’t live there — the biggest losers.

They have purchased homes or condo units specifically for short-term rental income and city hall is about to pull the rug out from under them.

Mayor Jim Watson pointed to the hosts who haven’t run safe short-term rental properties, saying “bad actors have ruined it for everyone.”

“Those people who bought a property now can sell that property because the real estate market is doing very well in Ottawa and I don’t have sympathy for them because it’s not as if they’re going to be out any money,” Watson said, adding that those owners have the option of selling the homes or renting the homes for long terms.

Winner: Resident hosts

Eliminating potentially more than 1,000 short-term rental units from the market gives a leg up to hotels, but also to people who rent out their own homes while briefly out of town.

The proposed regulations wouldn’t stop people from using their primary residences for short-term rentals.

Those hosts could get more calls for accommodations for when they’re away — that is, if visitors don’t mind renting lived-in homes for their short stays in Ottawa.

Loser: Short-term rental customers

Removing competition from the short-term accommodation market will give visitors fewer choices.

Short-term rentals not occupied by the owner often offer the same amenities as homes, like full kitchens and laundry.

While Ball notes there are long-term-stay hotels that offer those kinds of amenities, the removal of potentially hundreds of short-term rental units will narrow the selection for tourists and business travellers.

Winner: Renters and house hunters

The city assumes that once real-estate investors are pushed out of the short-term rental market, more homes would be available for purchase or long-term rentals.

Ottawa’s residential rental vacancy rate is below two per cent. PRISM Economics and Analysis, doing work for the City of Ottawa, estimated apartment rents have increased by 7.8 per cent and house rents have increased by 11.3 per cent between 2016 and 2018.

City consultants identified 1,236 homes perpetually on the short-term rental market in 2018. The units could be made available, but it depends what those owners do with their assets.

Ottawa realtor John Castle expects that the proposed regulations would have little impact on the local real estate market. He believes there’s an “equilibrium” in the market demand now and wonders if the units made available after city hall regulations would only feed into the cooled part of the housing market.

“My overall impression of what’s going to happen is, if there is a change, I think it will be small and I don’t think it will be very long term,” Castle said.

Loser: Spinoff businesses

Platforms like Airbnb, which takes a commission from hosts, obviously stand to lose if there are fewer short-term accommodations to advertise in Ottawa.

There are other businesses that have piggy-backed off the success of Airbnb.

There are property managers and cleaning companies who will lose homes in their portfolios if council blocks investment properties from being in the short-term rental market.

Winner: Residential neighbourhoods

At city hall, the most common reason cited for regulation is the need to protect neighbourhoods from problem short-term renters and hosts.

Watson said the tipping point in Ottawa was a shooting in Nepean last month at a short-term rental property.

“I suspect some (short-term accommodations) are very well-run, but we have to come up with some protection for people who live in these neighbourhoods who knowingly bought into a (low-density) residential zone and all of a sudden have a commercial enterprise next to them,” Watson said.

Condo boards not thrilled with unit owners running commercial operations in the buildings would also have their problems solved.

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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