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MPs have been invited to a special event at Parliament House on Thursday where Airbnb employees and selected super-hosts will “advise them on home sharing and the visitor economy in NSW” as well as present them with details on the positive impacts of Airbnb in their electorates.
However, the Airbnb flyer omitted the time and place of the meeting, leading to speculation that they are concerned about protests from residents’ groups.
The timing for Airbnb is crucial. Next month, the state government is expected to table new laws that will, if they follow the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry last year, allow home owners to “share” their houses and apartments with overseas visitors even when their property is zoned as permanent residential only.
The inquiry report openly declined to differentiate between houses and apartments and Airbnb is now anxious to head off growing resistance to “home sharing” in Sydney’s unit blocks.
Sydney’s inner-city harbour and beachside apartment blocks are the jewels in the holiday-letting crown, as they are in the areas tourists want to visit, near cafes and transport, and many even have resort facilities.
Opponents, including the Australian Hotel Association, say this would basically deregulate short-stay letting and turn unit blocks into de facto hotels – but without all the safety, health and management restrictions the hotel industry has to observe.
But many MPs are already onside with home-sharing, and on Thursday they will hear Airbnb argue that guests and hosts supported $214 million in economic activity in one year in Sydney, supporting 1600 jobs.
While Airbnb consistently promotes its main business as “ordinary people” letting rooms in their homes, critics say its main income is derived from opportunist owners and tenants letting whole apartments in key holiday areas.
Recent independent studies, including one by Sydney University, have shown that in areas where Airbnb is most active, rents have soared by as much as three times the rise elsewhere, while rental availability and housing affordability has plummeted.
A number of apartment resident groups like the Owners Corporation Network, its lobbying offshoot Our Strata Community, Our Choice and the independent group Neighbours Not Strangers are campaigning against the deregulation of holiday letting.
Their aims range from allowing apartment owners to choose whether or not they want bylaws regulating holiday lets, to an outright ban on Airbnb in buildings that are currently zoned residential only.
MPs will be presented with information packs that will include an overview of the benefits of Airbnb in their electorates and the economic impacts of the home sharing economy in NSW.
It will also include the Airbnb Community Compact, which sets out their principles for working with governments and communities to get the “right balance” and the Airbnb Policy Tool Chest, “a resource for governments to consider as they draft or amend home sharing rules”.
Leading strata lawyer Stephen Goddard, a spokesman for Our Strata Community, Our Choice was displeased about the private meeting.
“Now the scales are off Airbnb’s arrogance, telling politicians how they should be governed,” he said.
Jimmy Thomson writes the Flat Chat column in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald and edits the strata advice website flat-chat.com.au