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Short-stay Accommodation

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Tags: Short Stay Accommodation, Housing

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the House calls on the Government to, as soon as practicable, amend Planning Directive 6 and such elements of the Tasmanian Planning Scheme, as would enable councils to prohibit listing of whole properties as short-stay accommodation and to report progress to parliament no later than 8 August 2023.

We are moving this in the last private member's time before the winter break because we recognise that there is an opportunity for this House to take an immediate step that would give councils some capacity to rein in short-stay listings which are ballooning around the state. This is a measure councils have called for. As we know, short-stay accommodation is one of the contributors towards the rental affordability and availability crisis that we are dealing with today as a Tasmanian Parliament. Something has to give.

It is not good enough to have the Deputy Premier and Planning minister say words to the effect that 'this Government is not in the business of telling private property owners what to do with their properties'. At a philosophical neo-conservative level that might be acceptable, but government on a whole range of levels inserts itself into the lives and the finances of people. You cannot have a situation where you have investors buying up nearly whole streets of residential properties and then putting them on short-stay and councils having their hands tied behind their backs so that they just have to give a tick.

It is déjà vu all over again in this place, because in 2018, also in a notionally power-sharing parliament with the former Speaker of the House, Sue Hickey, in the chair, we moved for the Government to place a moratorium on new permits in residential zones for visitor accommodation to make visitor accommodation and existing dwellings a discretionary use, and to give councils the capacity to look at housing availability and affordability in their performance criteria, and have a look at the mix in their municipalities. We called on the Government to commit resources towards enforcing compliance with visitor accommodation rules, including operating without a permit where a permit is required. Now, regrettably, although the then Speaker said she wanted to be part of a big, brave, bold and accountable parliament, it was Sue Hickey's vote that killed this motion. Former Labor member for Franklin, Ms Standen and I were on the housing affordability committee together. Ms Standen made a really strong case in the debate for supporting our motion. The then Housing minister, Mr Jaensch moved an amendment that killed our amendment and really only provided a capacity for government to obtain data. It was a data system that was agreed to.

Let us have a look at the latest data collected by the Office of Consumer, Building and Occupational Services. It shows that across Tasmania there are 5748 short-stay premises and 2968 of those are whole homes. Almost 3000 entire homes have been removed completely from the rental market. In the greater Hobart area the number of properties in 2018, when we last tried to put some restraint on short stays, was 1993 properties, according to University of Tasmania data. Now there are 2379. There has been an increase of almost 400 properties being taken out of the rental market and put on to short-stay. When the COVID-19 period was at its most intense and we pulled up the drawbridge, about 100 whole homes from within the Hobart LGA went back into the rental market. You saw within the space of a short period of time, months, rents drop by nine per cent.

We are in the most savage and unaffordable rental market in the country, with the lowest vacancy rate. In Hobart and Launceston rents have gone up by 50 per cent in the past five years. In some cases, for our constituents rents have gone up by 70 or 80 or 100 per cent and more. That is pricing Tasmanians out of their own paradise. It is putting enormous stress on low-income families and it is ensuring that choices are being made by those families about what they can and cannot afford.

Our motion is not designed to be a blunt instrument, anti-short-stay. We recognise there is an important place for short-stay accommodation in the tourism mix. What has happened here is because you have a Government that has refused to regulate short-stay is out of control. It is our people, the people we represent, who are paying the price for mainland and overseas investors who are buying up properties and putting them straight onto short-stay because they can make more money out of them.

In greater Hobart, there are 2379 total listings, 858 of which are not in full or part a primary residence. For the greater Launceston area, it is 1000 total listings and 543 of them are whole homes. Shelter Tasmania's 2022 assessment found two-thirds of Launceston short-stay properties used to be in the long-term rental market.

On 21 March 2022, Hobart City Council attempted to amend its interim planning scheme to prohibit whole homes from being used as short stay accommodation in the general residential zone, in a residential zone and low density residential zone. The Tasmanian Planning Commission ruled -

With the ongoing application of Planning Directive 6 to the interim planning scheme, any such amendment if it were to be approved, would continue to be inconsistent with the requirements of planning directive 6 and thus the amendment could not achieve the planning controls, outcomes that the planning authority seeks.

We have a situation right now where through the refusal to act by this Planning minister we have councils with their hands tied firmly behind their backs with very little capacity to have any kind of balancing control on the mix of properties that are in the short-stay market.

If it were to pass today, our motion would allow councils who are the planning authorities to prohibit the listing of whole homes as short-stay accommodation and it would provide councils with the discretion that they have been calling for and those calls have fallen on Mr Ferguson's deaf ears. We do not understand why the Planning minister is so obdurate about this. I know we have had a whack of him about being a short-stay property owner, which he is and which the Premier is, and it is difficult not to see that that conflicts him in his decision-making. He might bristle when we say that to him but it is a fact that Mr Ferguson profits from short-stay accommodation and arguably from an unregulated market. We would like this House to help councils get some more capacity to contribute towards a kinder and fairer rental market, particularly given that it is so tight now.

We have here, to all members of the House of Assembly, a supportive letter for what we are trying to do today from the Tenants' Union of Tasmania, TasCOSS and Shelter Tasmania. They point to what the previous Housing and Planning minister, Mr Jaensch, did when we moved on this last time, five years ago. The Government then committed to obtain reliable data in order to assess the impact of short-stay visitor accommodation in Tasmania. We now have the data. We know the impact is significant. We know it is impacting on the lives, not just of low-income families, it is impacting on middle income families and also on people who are skilled professionals and tradespeople who move here from interstate and cannot find a place to call home. The data now is oxygen clear. The data the Government wanted in order to inform its decision-making is now available and yet still we have inaction.

We may hear the minister get up and say, 'Here you are, you are at it again. You know that the solution to the housing crisis is to increase supply'. It is so glib. It is so offensive to people who right now are facing the prospect of spending more than half their income on rent or living in a car or moving to the mainland, which would be a travesty. It is not enough to have a far-off goal of increasing supply. There are multiple levers that this parliament can pull and one of them is to give councils some discretion over short-stay listings. That would pretty quickly, ease some pressure on the private rental market.

Fundamentally, government and maybe neo-conservatives view it differently but there is a key role for government in providing housing for people. In recent years, we have seen a crab walk away from that to the point now where we have a federal Labor government that thinks it is good public policy to gamble $10 billion of public funding on the stock market in order to fund housing builds -

Ms Haddad - You know that is not true.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is true.

Ms Haddad - It is the same as a superannuation fund. Is that a gamble on the stock market?

Ms O'CONNOR - I put this to you: would we gamble the money that we spend funding hospitals on the stock market?

Ms Haddad - It is completely untrue to call it a gamble. It is completely untrue and disingenuous to call it a gamble.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is not, it is not completely untrue. I believe Max Chandler-Mather on this issue over you, Ms Haddad, because he has been working on this intensely in the federal parliament as an Australian Greens representative for some months now. There is no way the Greens would be voting against good housing legislation. What is on the table now is not good housing legislation. It would deliver to Tasmania in the order of perhaps, depending on how the stock market is going, $10 million or $11 million per year to increase supply. Under the former Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, when I was minister, we were receiving from the Commonwealth between $17 million and $18 million per year to increase supply -

Ms Haddad - Twenty years ago.

Ms O'CONNOR - Ten years ago.

Ms Haddad - This is not replacing that funding, it would continue. It would be in addition to that funding.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is pathetic. It is a Morrison government policy that the Albanese Government has adopted. That tells us everything we need to know.

The Greens are not claiming that in making this move, we are going to solve the housing crisis. We know that it is complex. There are federal, state and local jurisdictional responsibilities. We are not going to solve them all here today. There is not enough money coming from federal and state governments to build more social housing for people because there has been a walk away from social housing

This move, the need for which has been made obvious by the Planning Commission decision, would give councils at least some capacity. They should have been given it years ago. I encourage members to have a look at the Hansard of the debate where Sue Hickey killed our hopes and dreams of getting some restraint on short-stay. Then the minister said we need the data first. That was five years ago.

As the letter from the community stakeholders makes clear, the Government voted against a moratorium on short-stay accommodation, but passed an amendment, moved by the then Minister for Housing which called for the implementation of reliable data to assess the impact of short-stay accommodation in Tasmania.

The Government's data now says that entire property, whole-home, short-stay accommodation across Tasmania has increased by 38 per cent since 2018, from 1713 properties to 2371. In the Launceston municipality, the number of entire short-stay homes has increased by 44 per cent. There are now 278 whole homes taken out of the rental market in Launceston.

Dr Woodruff - Shame.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right, Dr Woodruff. Other data cited in this correspondence, which was prepared by Shelter Tasmania, shows that a majority of properties listed as short-stay accommodation in the Hobart City Council municipality had previously been listed as long-term rentals. The report by Shelter also found that Hobart short-stay accommodation as a proportion of its total private long-term rental market is much higher than in other Australian capital cities. Because of a failure to regulate, a failure to apply a sophisticated policy response to an obvious problem, to act in the public interest, instead of in the interests of interstate and overseas investors, because it is not mum and dad Tasmanians we are really talking about here. We now have the highest concentration of short-stay properties of any capital cities in the country: Greater Sydney, the Airbnb density is 0.83 per cent, Greater Melbourne is 1.25 per cent. Even in the middle of Melbourne it is 3.82 per cent air density.

In the Hobart City local government area, it is 9.33 per cent. That is nearly one in 10. Is that right? Of the available housing stock within the Hobart City local government area an estimated one in 10 are short-stay. We have one right next to us.

Dr Woodruff - Not you personally.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I am not a predator landlord or an investor who owns a short-stay property. There has been an explosion in short-stay properties. Let us look at what some other jurisdictions have done. These are places that have been dealing with the issue for longer than us at a greater intensity because of the level of visitation to those cities. All of us who have travelled have stayed in Airbnb properties and it has been wonderful. We know that they play an important role, but you cannot have an unregulated system like we have now.

In May 2018 Barcelona, Spain, continued its tough stance on short-stay sites. It instructed Airbnb to remove 2577 listings that it found to be operating without an approved licence or face substantial fines. On 1 June Airbnb initiated an agreement giving Barcelona officials access to listings data. In Barcelona they continue to prioritise homes for the people who live in Barcelona over tourists. In Berlin, German officials placed some blame on Airbnb for Berlin's increasing rents and housing shortages, passing a law in 2014 banning short-term rentals that have not received explicit permission from the Berlin senate. There was a ruling by the city's council which meant that owner-occupiers can rent out their primary homes without time restrictions after obtaining a permit from city officials for up to 90 days a year. Again, there is some restraint in the system there.

In February 2015, the beautiful city of Amsterdam announced a cooperative effort with Airbnb in which the city would levy a tourist tax on rentals while Airbnb informed potential hosts of all rules and regulations. In 2018 Amsterdam limited short-term rentals to 30 days a year, halving its previous permit.

There is another issue here which we are not trying to deal with but it relates to council's capacity to levy different layers of rates on investors who are profiting from short-stay property because they are effectively running a business. At the moment, as we understand it, there is a limited capacity for councils to recognise that a short-stay property within their municipality is a profit-making business and levy a different rate on that property than they would on a Tasmanian household whose home is next door.

It is something that the Government could act on, but there is this refusal because I think it sits mostly with Mr Ferguson. New York has passed laws making it illegal to rent in New York for less than 30 days without the host present. Airbnbs in New York are home shares, apartment shares or room shares. San Francisco adopted a similar policy to New York. Airbnb rentals are allowed only if hosts are full-time residents. Rentals are capped at 90 days and all hosts must register with the city. Santa Monica, California, effectively wiped out 80 per cent of its Airbnb listings by instituting the toughest regulations on short-term rentals in the United States. The authorities in Santa Monica said they has to make these changes because there were increases in housing prices and dwindling housing supply.

There are plenty of examples of a whole range of policy responses to get some kind of capacity to control the mix of housing in a city and its uses. Here five years after minister Jaensch then said we need the data, there has been no action. We asked the Premier a question this morning and we got the usual 'blah blah'.

We think this is sensible policy. We know that it would place significant pressure on minister Ferguson to do what he should have done some time ago and make it easier for councils to exercise discretion. This is good policy; we know it is. It has the support of community sector organisations. It would ease some pressure on the private rental market. Ultimately, this is a vote we are about to have that is a real-world vote with real-world consequences. If we vote the right way today, it will bring an out-of-control short stay accommodation market back to something of a level that we see in other capital cities.

As I said earlier it is out of control here. The concentration is higher here than any other capital city we have got the least affordable rents, lowest vacancy rates and a government that continues to sit on its hands and say, 'No, no we will increase supply everything will be fine. Look over there, look over there' with Monopoly money and a promise to build 10 000 homes by 2032 when they would rather apparently put a roof over Gill McLaughlin's head over at Macquarie Point than they would over Tasmanian families, low income earners and people who are battling.

We warmly commend this motion to the House and we implore members to vote for this motion so at least councils would have some discretion and some capacity to rein in short stay accommodation, which right now is out of control. We have a system that favours investors over every day Tasmanians who have been priced out of their own paradise.