Investigating Airbnb: Short-term rentals and the housing crisis

We’re hiring award-winning journalists across Canada to tell the story of short-term rentals, and investigate why politicians have proven unable to regulate the industry
Graphic by Sophia de Guzman
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Today, in partnership with Pivot Media, we are launching a groundbreaking investigative project that will tell the story of short-term rentals, and their impact on the housing market.

To do it, we have assembled a dream team of award-winning investigative journalists in cities across Canada — each supported by a local editor and paid a living wage — who will work collectively and separately over two months this summer to document the state of illegal short term rentals in Canada, and hold companies and governments alike accountable for their actions.

@ricochetmedia Our journalism needs you! Ricochet is partnering with @Pivot Média to launch a nation-wide, bilingual investigation into illegal short-term rentals, and we need your support. Can you chip in $28? Every donation, even as little as $3, makes a difference and helps support this amazing team of journalists. But even if you're unable to donate, please share our fundraiser link on your socials to get the word out - https://gofund.me/0635bc59 Thank you so much! #journalism #airbnb #airbnbexperience #fundraiser #gofundme ♬ [News / News] Inorganic: Flat(935198) - 8.864

Airbnb, and other short term rental sites, have cannibalized the supply of rental apartments and contributed to increases in rents of between 40 and 50 per cent in cities like Vancouver and Toronto over the last two years.

But even as governments have taken action to address speculation, with measures like a ban on foreign buyers and a tax on vacant homes, the role of short term rentals in our housing crisis has largely escaped legislative scrutiny.

“I’m looking forward to investigating the bigger picture. Who makes the rules, and how are they enforced? Who among provincial and municipal leaders has a stake in the battle, and how does it affect the way they vote on housing? Who is most impacted by this crisis, what are their stories, and what can governments do to support them?” — Brishti Basu, Investigative journalist, Victoria, B.C.

With governments in Quebec and British Columbia mulling new legislation targeting the sector, and in the wake of a deadly fire that killed seven people in Montreal at an illegal Airbnb hotel — that lacked fire exits or alarms and had some of its windows nailed shut — there may be an opening to reevaluate the role of platforms like Airbnb, and the rules that should govern their operations in a democratic society.

(Starting, perhaps, with fire safety and the recent revelation that the Montreal fire department had quietly stopped doing inspections of evacuation routes four years before the fire, only resuming them in the days following the tragic blaze.)

But first, the public needs good information on which to base its decisions. We need to know the scope of the problem, the scale of its impact on housing supply, and the stories of those most affected.

“Over the years we’ve witnessed a fundamental shift in access to housing. Vacancy rates have tanked, rents have ballooned and the number of people experiencing homelessness across the country is skyrocketing — It is undeniable that the conversion of long-term housing to short-term rentals plays a role.” — Zachary Kamel, Investigative journalist, Montreal, Quebec

We also need accountability from governments that have sat idly by as short term rentals flouted long-established rules and laws. Who among our politicians profits financially from short term rentals? How do those interests correlate with their voting records?

Fact check According to Statistics Canada, there were over 1.3 million vacant homes in Canada in 2021. The majority of these are investment properties left to appreciate or used for short term rentals, as well as seldom-used second or third homes for the rich.

In short, we need public interest investigative journalism.

Sadly, investigative journalism is increasingly rare at our largest legacy outlets. It costs too much, and it doesn’t pay the bills. And, well, that’s where you come in.

We need $28 from you. More if you’d like, less if you need. But this is the price of in-depth investigative journalism with no corporate sponsors and a fair wage for everyone. You’ll be paying for one hour of a journalist’s time working on this story. And, along with 1,000 other folks from communities near and far, you’ll make this public interest journalism project possible.

The Dream Team

We’ve assembled an outstanding team of award-winning investigative journalists and editors from across Canada.

Fact check Over the past year, according to an RBC Economics study cited in Jacobin, the country saw its “highest annual increase in rent growth on record.” And Canada’s shortage of rental housing could quadruple by 2026.

On the west coast, former Capital Daily reporter Brishti Basu will be supported by National Magazine Award-winning investigative journalist Jimmy Thomson, who will act as a consulting editor on this project.

In Toronto Anupriya Dasgupta, a former Journalists for Human Rights’ Investigative Fellow at Ricochet, will be supported by Ricochet managing editor Andrea Houston and the team at The Hoser, a local non-profit outlet that will provide editorial assistance on this project.

“As a young immigrant in Canada, I have experienced my own fair share of housing-related insecurities that have bled into other parts of my life, even impacting my mental health and physical safety. In my own community, I have lost loved ones to homelessness… And it’s not just me. It’s you, it’s your neighbours, it’s your essential workers, it’s your healthcare providers. It’s about every individual who needs a roof over their head in this country.” — Anupriya Dasgupta, Investigative journalist, Toronto, Ontario

Thanks to a partnership between Ricochet and award-winning Quebec outlet Pivot, we’ll be producing journalism in both official languages in Quebec. Zachary Kamel, a freelancer with bylines at the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Associated Press who first reported the identity of the Airbnb entrepreneur whose units were at the heart of the Old Montreal fire, will report in English while Sam Harper, an investigative journalist with Pivot, will report in French. They’ll be supported by Pivot managing editor Alexis Ross and Ricochet senior editor Ethan Cox.

Rounding out the team will be Ricochet Investigative Fellow Sophia de Guzman and Pivot videojournalist Oona Barrett who will produce video reports and graphics summarizing the project’s findings for TikTok and Instagram.

“La crise du logement sévit partout au Québec. À Rivière-du-Loup, Rimouski et Gaspé le taux d’inoccupation frise le 0%. Ce sont des villes où Airbnb est très présent, surtout l’été quand arrivent les touristes.” — Sam Harper, journaliste d'enquête, Rivière-du-Loup, Québec

These talented journalists will work together to tell the big picture story at the national level, and on their own to tell stories that are specific to their region. We’ll cover the impact of short term rentals in Canada’s biggest cities, as well as in some of its smallest communities.

Fact check In Montreal, one in five households can’t afford both rent and other basic needs. Source: Centraide Montreal via Global News, May 16.

But we can only do it with your support. We need $28,000 to pay four journalists a living wage of $28 per hour to work half time on this project over two months this summer, support the editors working with them who are not on salary at one of our outlets, and pay for access to various databases and property records.

In other words, we need a thousand people to donate an average of $28. Can you donate $28 right now?

Sharing this article on social media can be almost as helpful as a donation, and we’d love you to help us spread the word on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook or anywhere else you reach your friends.

Finally, we want you to know that we appreciate you for reading all this way. Public interest journalism isn’t easy, but none of us would be doing this if we didn’t love it.

We can’t wait to get to work, and your support makes that good work possible.

Thank you.

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