MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council’s call for Airbnb owners to open up properties for long-term rental has largely fallen on deaf ears, with few owners taking their properties off the holiday rental market.
In a desperate attempt to resolve the shire’s rental shortages, the shire sent emails and letters to property owners over summer to encourage them to switch from offering short-term holiday leases to longer-term leases.
The mayor Cr Steve Holland said it was hard for the council to know exactly how many people responded to the appeal to holiday home owners, as they were asked to contact real estate agents directly.
“However, we fielded about 10 inquiries from people interested in listing their place and connected them with either an agent or local support service,” he said.
There are about 4000 people on the public housing waiting list and around 1000 sleeping rough, according to the council, but close to 5000 vacant private properties on the peninsula available only for short stays (as of 17 February, 2023, Inside Airbnb).
Real estate agents say renters are inquiring daily about vacancies.
Stockdale & Leggo Dromana/Rosebud rental manager Danielle Bickerdike said the end of summer holidays saw a small number of homes being put back onto the longer-term rental market until next summer, but no more than happens every year at the end of the season.
The peninsula’s rental squeeze hit the national news last week, after Mount Martha resident Kellie Langeliers spoke to The Age and the ABC about the community impact of turning residential areas into “commercial profit centres”.
Langeliers is part of a growing movement of business owners and welfare groups calling on authorities to curb the growth of the short-stay rental market.
She said communities were suffering due to the lack of permanency in the populations of holiday hot spots, with family homes continually being turned into Airbnbs because of the high rents.
“The growth in short stay accommodation is eroding communities, there are fewer permanent residents so it’s hard to get volunteers, it’s hard to get staff, it’s hard to develop a caring community,” she said.
Langeliers said the peninsula should have learned from other tourist hotspots like Byron Bay and even overseas, where tourist towns service the wealthy and become “soulless” because of the transience of the population.
“I’m a business owner so I know people can’t get staff because of the lack of rentals and because of the soaring rents,” Langeliers said.
“But I also have friends who rent and are being forced to stay in places that need repair because they can’t find alternatives … it is serious and will only get worse unless governments and councils act now.”
Like Holland, Langeliers would like to see policy changes at state level and the provision of accommodation for key worker to safeguard jobs and businesses.
“I’m not anti-Airbnb, I just think it needs better regulating so communities are not so negatively affected,” she said.
She would also like the council to be proactive by increasing fees, like Warrnambool City Council, which introduced a $400 fee for short-stay rentals in an attempt to regulate the sector. Mornington Peninsula Shire charges $311 to register short-stay homes.
“I run a business and my registration costs are around $1000 a year, these short-stay operators don’t pay anything like that,” she said.
Victoria’s peak tourism body has backed calls for council intervention.
Victoria Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said properties on short-term accommodation platforms had never been required to pay the same level of taxes as more traditional providers.
Langeliers said she was inundated with messages on social media once she spoke up in the media, with all responders backing her call for action apart from a real estate agent and an Airbnb owner with several properties.
“The only people who don’t think it’s a problem are the people who are making loads of money out of the short-term rental market, it’s so morally and ethically wrong and it’s destroying the fabric of the community,” she said.
Holland said the council continued to push the state government, which is responsible for supporting homeless services, to provide urgent investment in social and affordable housing and to consider policy levers and measures to balance short and long stay rentals.
So far the state government has been slow to act on the impact of short stay accommodation on the housing crisis, spruiking instead its Big Build program, which will see around 24 new houses being built on the peninsula.