The unauthorised use of residential dwellings for tourism has been contentious in Byron Shire since 2003.
Recently Mayor Richardson spoke about the impact of Airbnb, commenting on the erosion of our community by the so-called ‘share economy’ platform Airbnb.
Simon’s comments are strongly supported by residents but Airbnb representative Brent Thomas accused him of being anti-tourism.
While most residents accept the impacts of living in a tourism town including the pressures of crowding and increased traffic, it is unacceptable when their neighbourhoods are disrupted and they lose their amenity.
There are some crucial points with this controversial issue. Tourism and business zones are where commercial activities have been deemed appropriate but residential zones are defined to provide areas for community to flourish. This involves the establishment of a permanent community by creating neighbourhoods where people can know who lives next door and in their street.
Permanent residents are the lifeblood of our community; they provide social and cultural capital and form our volunteer base. Volunteeers contribute to local events including festivals and farmers markets and are the amazing people who give their time to care for all of us as emergency volunteers with the Bush Fire Brigades, SES, Marine Rescue and others. Volunteers also provide many community services supporting our aged, homeless, young and other vulnerable groups. It is residents who have protected and preserved what is precious in our Shire and what has made it the international tourism icon that it is. It is now sadly ironic that tourism is destroying the amenity of locals.
The position often put by the ‘sharing’ economy platforms and advocates is that it helps locals financially and provides a local perspective and experience for visitors.
This argument fails when you consider that approximately 15 per cent of the total of residential houses in the Shire are being let out as entire houses on Airbnb. This is against the residential zoning, which is defined to protect residential amenity and encourage a sense of community and neighbourhood.
There are about 450 properties that advertise a room or two for letting and this does allow for the ‘spirit’ of the share economy. But the letting out of entire houses on a permanent basis delivers significant issues.
Currently approximately 2,000 houses are not available for permanent residents, either for home ownership or rental, and that equates to approximately 5,000 people who are not able to access housing in Byron Shire. The use of entire houses is like mini-motels in residential areas; they are tourism establishments, prohibited under the planning laws and are a commercial use of a residential dwelling.
Council collects funds to offset the costs of providing services for community and business. Residential rates are lower than commercial as residents are recognised as a great source of value to a community, whereas tourists are a source of value to a business but usually a cost to Council in terms of wear and tear on public facilities, roads, parks, and they generate waste, which is Council’s responsibility and cost.
No wonder Airbnb try to hard to defend their right to operate; it’s a lucrative business with no costs or return of fees to the council.
In contrast to this, bed and breakfasts, who also provide rooms to visitors, are required to submit a development application and neighbours have the right to make submissions. They also pay significant development contribution fees and pay increased council rates for the operation of the commercial use.
The impacts of the unauthorised use of residential dwellings for tourism purposes includes that homes are sometimes vacant, diminishing the sense of neighbourhood. There’s also the reduced availability of stock for sale and or rental, increasing the lack of housing availability. The use has also increased the value of properties as the purchase of a home used for a business increases the value of properties and impacts on housing affordability.
Short-term letting is a commercial activity without any of the real costs of operating a business. It’s an attractive investment with some owners also taking advantage of negative gearing and capital gains tax, which were introduced to incentivise property investment to increase rental stock not tourism. The outcome and impacts are far from the intent.
The Australian Tax Office is reviewing and auditing the activity and whether those who use tax incentives are compliant with tax laws.
The reality is that the permanent use of entire residential dwellings for Airbnb comes at a great cost to residents and to Council. Byron Shire Council has now returned to the position that existed in 2010 ‘to prosecute the owners of unauthorised short-term residential accommodation’. The community should support Council and advise of any impact they encounter to ensure the return of vibrant local community and neighbourhoods.