Ask Angie: Could the coast exploit this technological approach to the housing crisis?
Q: Could the room listing website called Happipad help our housing crisis?
A: If you haven’t heard of it, Happipad is a web platform where you can list rooms and suites, or search for them. Yes, these services are available through sites like Facebook or Craigslist, or even Airbnb and VRBO, but Happipad is a little different. The platform is a self-proclaimed “social purpose organization” that was founded in 2017 by a team of UBC student-faculty, with the aim of tackling housing affordability and social isolation. It’s also designed to facilitate what Happipad calls “accompaniment housing” for people who might otherwise live on their own without the kind of community that would make their world a little brighter. It could be a senior living in their home with room to spare, or a newcomer to Canada looking to find a community on the Sunshine Coast.
While the online platform (www.happipad.com) might look something like Airbnb at first glance, it’s actually more of a home or work exchange platform. With Happipad, you start by creating a profile, your profile is verified and filtered, and then you can contact other people who have done the same. Users can connect with people based on their needs, expectations, and preferences, whether you’re looking for a room or offering a space in your home.
Notably, Happipad’s website says it has “one of the most comprehensive screening processes in the rental industry with mandatory ID verification and background checks.” In fact, you can also become an RCMP verified host as part of your profile.
As for the listing types themselves, from the start, Happipad was designed to comply with city bylaws (unlike AirBnB). “Landlords” with listings on Happipad must live in the same house (or on the same property) as the room or suite they are renting. (A fact that also sets the platform apart from a site like AirBnB.) These listings, the website explains, can be for rooms or “in-law suites.” Additionally, Happipad guests – AKA tenants – must have access to a kitchen, private or shared bathroom, and access to common areas. In theory, all of these features encourage medium-to-long-term accommodations more than vacationers or weekenders, and Happipad says you need to rent your room or suite for at least a month to be a host.
A bit more about the fine print on Happipad: their web-based platform handles rental agreements, facilitates rent payments, and supports users with dispute resolution services if needed. It’s free to register and publish a property on Happipad (contact the Resource Center if you need help registering!). There is a one-time placement fee of $50 for each guest a host rents, and Happipad collects 5% of the monthly rent. Whether this is a fair exchange of fees for services is up to you!
I would argue that the differences – or the added value that comes from using this platform to list rental options – might be enough of an incentive to give people who are hesitant to rent suites in their home or on their property the confidence to do so, thereby adding a stock of available medium and long-term housing that our community so badly needs. The security checks and checks offered by Happidad can also give potential tenants the peace of mind to consider roommates at different stages of life, when previously they only considered self-contained suites. It’s a great option for older people who may need a little extra help at home and for young people looking to relocate to the Sunshine Coast.
A quick search of the webpage and I can see that Happipad is already in use in Kelowna, Abbotsford, and Vancouver, to name a few cities in British Columbia. There are no listings anywhere on the coast (I searched Pender Harbour, Egmont, Langdale, Roberts Creek, Sechelt, Sechelt Indian Government District, Gibsons, Gambier and Keats Island)… but it would just take a bit of momentum and local buy-in to change that. If enough people sign up, we could actually, as a community, start tackling this affordable housing crisis that we find ourselves in. Why not give it a try, even for a month, and see how it goes?
This housing crisis is a big puzzle that takes action on many levels… and perhaps a small business like Happipad could turn out to be a small, but easily accessible and important piece of the puzzle here on the coast. What do you think? Discover it on: www.happipad.com . And, for the record, although the Sunshine Coast Resource Center has no affiliation with this platform, we have every interest in sharing any information that could help our community find affordable housing!
Angie Theilmann is an Information and Referral Specialist at the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre, your community information centre.
The Resource Center is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Appointments are recommended to ensure we are available to help you. Contact us: [email protected] or 604-885-4088.