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Airbnb likely cause of high rents in Queenstown - researcher

Apr 23, 2019

New research suggests there could be a link between areas with high housing costs and a big concentration of Airbnbs.

The University of Canterbury research shows Airbnb rentals are concentrated in the regions and tourism hotspots, with one Airbnb for every five residents in Queenstown Hill alone.

Workers and families continue to be squeezed out of Queenstown amid high rents and house prices, with a local Housing Trust saying short-term rentals such as Airbnb are partly to blame.

Airbnb listings across the country. Photo: Supplied

Lead researcher Dr Malcolm Campbell stressed that the figures were based on 2013 census data but they indicated that Airbnbs might be having an impact on the long-term rental and housing markets in specific areas.

"I wonder if it's a coincidence that some of the places that have really high housing costs actually are places with a lot of Airbnbs," he said.

"We can't conclude this firmly, but we could perhaps speculate that the only thing that needs to change is if you turn a house into an Airbnb, you displace a tenant who's perhaps been there."

Dr Campbell said he hoped to be able to draw more concrete solutions when the latest census figures came out later this year.

His interactive map takes a closer look at the Airbnbs in different areas.

Hoteliers want more constraints on Airbnbs

Hospitality New Zealand's accommodation advisory council chair Nigel Humphries said while hoteliers were subject to all sorts of regulatory hurdles, Airbnbs were not.

Businesses and communities were both struggling in the face of rising rent and house prices, which were shutting families and workers out of some areas, Mr Humphries said.

"We talk about a national housing crisis, well if we took even 50 percent of these short-term rental houses out of the market - we wouldn't have a national housing crisis," he said.

"We'd have lower rentals for everyone, possibly lower prices, and it would be better off all around."

The social impact

Queenstown Lakes District councillor John MacDonald said that the intensity of Airbnbs meant people didn't know their neighbours, or who would be living next door from week to week.

"That lack of community feel and social connection can impact on people's mental health and other things ...I don't think it's a good thing," he said.

The sheer volume of Airbnb listings was putting the squeeze on the long-term rental market and house prices, Mr MacDonald said.

The government's Tenancy Services website puts average rents at nearly $700 in Queenstown.

Meanwhile, Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust executive officer Julie Scott said the number of families on the waiting list for a house had doubled to 600 within the last four years.

"There's a lot of stress associated with those people and what they're going through, particularly with rents going up astronomically in the last couple of years and [issues with] the security of tenure," she said.

People considering listing a house or room on Airbnb should think about giving a local family a chance instead, Ms Scott said.

Bed tax threat to tourism economy?

A Queenstown lobby group fears a bed tax proposed for the resort town will hurt the profits of accommodation providers.

The Queenstown Lakes District mayor, Jim Boult, plans to introduce a levy of five to 10 percent on short-term accommodation.

Lakes District Tax Equity Group organiser, Nik Kiddle, said accommodation providers would be forced to lift their prices.

"This is going to come as a shock to the market and the shock will resonate not only in our sector to dampen demand for our services but it's almost certain to have negative flow on effects on the wider tourism economy here.

"We have a very strong tourism economy here, why weaken it."

The council voted unanimously last month to hold a non-binding referendum on a tax, and from 14 May residents will receive voting papers for the June ballot.

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