The rush for short-stay accommodation permits should not come as a surprise to anyone. When you seek to remove people’s rights, it’s only natural for them to hold on tighter. And the right Hobart City Council wants to strip away is an owner’s ability to offer their property to guests who are eating, sleeping and showering, just like any other residential activity.
As the owner of a short-stay property with an existing permit, I stand to benefit from a ban on future permits as this would eliminate new competition. From a selfish perspective, I would be wise to say nothing and take any windfalls, but I’m not one to stand back and watch as ideology-driven policies based on unreliable statistics and crossed fingers are adopted which will do little, if anything, to positively impact our housing situation.
Our community deserves good policy, but that’s not what’s being offered up here. Good policy uses reliable data, applies clear and consistent logic, fully explores potential consequences and risks, examines the likelihood of its effectiveness, and only comes to life if its objectives are highly likely to be achieved. The short-stay policies being pushed by Council tick none of these boxes.
The Council clearly does not understand short stay from an owner or visitor’s perspective. Short-stay hosts offer their property for a range of reasons, including the flexible self-employment it provides, the financial reward for effort, the comfort of knowing your property is looked after, the satisfaction of providing great experiences, and the peace of mind of knowing you won’t be stuck with a bad tenant. Increasing rates will not counter these benefits, but it will increase the nightly rate for visitor accommodation by a handful of dollars and generate revenue for a debt-laden Council.
There are aspects of the short-stay sector that do warrant Council’s attention, such as deterring or removing the ability for international owners and faceless conglomerates to buy up homes to use as a short-stay. This is a worthwhile goal that requires a sharper focus than the Council’s very blunt instrument ban.
When it comes to data, the Hobart City Council knows how many visitor accommodation permits it has issued, but it does not know how many of these are currently being used as short-stay, are no longer being used as short-stay, or have never been or never will be used as short-stay. Furthermore, the Council and housing researchers typically point to notoriously unreliable data from data scraping websites as the basis of their assumptions. And there has been no attempt to consider the data that captures the benefits of short-stay, like local expenditure and employment generation.
Now focusing on the logic behind the Council’s attack on short-stay, is the logic that every space that could be used to house people must be owner-occupied or rented or we’ll financially penalise you and strip you from any alternative? If that’s the case, then secondary residences, shacks and ancillary granny flats should be captured, along with the thousand of bedrooms that sit empty each night. Or is the logic that you should pay more if you're using the property to generate income? If that’s the case, long-term rentals and people who rent rooms have been forgotten. And finally, is the logic that if we simply don't like what you're doing with property you own – even when it’s still people making tea and toast – then we'll just charge you more? Yes. This is it.
As part of their deliberations, the Council was informed by housing researcher that because Hobart’s rental market is comparatively small, it only takes a small number of homes to be added or taken from the market for this to have a temporary impact on rental prices. Instead of taking this important finding and considering how they can help support the development of new homes, or how they can increase the availability of existing housing stock with a carrot approach, or how they can make long-term renting more attractive, the Council instead has their stick out and is looking to punish those who use their property in a way they don’t like.
What makes the Hobart City Council’s fixation with short-stay so concerning is not only how comfortable they are with assuming control of other people’s property and pushing a policy that won’t achieve its objective, but also that their efforts to address the housing crisis are narrowly focused on existing homes.
A pathway to more affordable housing will not be found by shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship. The pathway out requires a focus on new homes coming to the market as quickly as possible. And systemic change so we don’t have history repeating itself requires the Council to look at how their decisions and policies deter new homes.