A pair of articles from Victoria BC Today have been labeled “fake news” by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
Early Tuesday evening, Victoria BC Today posted and shared an article entitled “Mayor Lisa Helps rents out a suite in her own house – for $2,550 a month on Air BnB – but she asks you to take in the city’s homeless” across their social media channels.
Written by VBCT Staff, the article asserts that Mayor Lisa Helps “rents a suite in her own home on Airbnb”. It then links to an Airbnb listing in the Fernwood neighbourhood of Victoria, hosted by “Marianne and Olive”.
Victoria Buzz has since learned that the Marianne described in the listing is Marianne Unger, Helps’s landlord. The confusion around the Airbnb in question seems to have arisen from Helps and Unger living in separate residences in the same duplex.
Helps quickly responded via Twitter, calling on Victoria BC Today to check and correct its facts.
Check your facts and correct them. This is not true. I rent the upper portion of a duplex. Shame on your assumptions.
— Lisa Helps (@lisahelps) June 14, 2017
However, the blog’s social media posts and articles remain up as of this article’s publication.
A Saga Across Social Media
Later that evening, a Facebook user shared the same Victoria BC Today article Helps’ Facebook timeline. This prompted Helps to comment “This is actually a lie! Shouldn’t believe everything you read online.”
When one commenter pressed Helps, asking whether she and the Airbnb host were common-law partners or whether the two of them shared a dwelling, Helps responded by commenting “That we are common law partners? No. That we share a dwelling? No. [sic] Where are you getting this information? You and the folks at Victoria BC TODAY are treading a very fine line towards libel… I’d be really careful if I were you.”
“The folks at Victoria BC TODAY are treading a very fine line towards libel.”
Around the same time as Helps made the above Facebook comments, Victoria BC Today posted a follow-up article entitled “In defence of her $2,550/mo. Air BnB suite, Mayor Helps claims ‘I rent’ – but curiously, her ‘landlord’ has paid almost $20,000 to her 2011 and 2014 electoral campaigns”.
Again written by VBCT Staff, the article doubles down on previous claims. It questions the legitimacy of Marianne Unger’s position as Helps’s landlord, detailing campaign donations made by Unger to Helps’s Mayoral campaigns and makes the following statement:
“We [Victoria BC Today] contend that Helps is a financially contributing member of the household where her and Unger – as common law partners – run the for-profit Air BnB.”
Controversy Spreads to Reddit
A lively discussion of the controversy erupted the following morning on Reddit.com/r/VictoriaBC. There, commenters attempted to back up Victoria BC Today’s argument with links to Helps’s “fake news” tweet:
@VictoriaBCToday Take down your fake news immediately please. You are spreading lies. I rent the upper portion of a duplex. No AirBnb.
— Lisa Helps (@lisahelps) June 14, 2017
Based on the wording of the tweet and Village Vibe article, along with the appearance of the same address on the campaign contributions form and the design studio webpage, commenters alleged that Helps and Unger were in a common-law relationship.
Helps Settles Confusion, Demands Apology
However, when contacted by Victoria Buzz, Helps disputed the claims. “[Unger and I] run a composting business together called The Backyard Project. That is what that [Village Vibe] article is about,” Helps stated. “I live at 1619 1/2 Camosun Street, it’s the upper portion of the duplex. Sometimes I write it simply as 1619 for ease. It is a completely separate dwelling unit from 1619.”
“[Unger and I] are not common law partners. We do not share a dwelling. We do not share finances and I do not benefit financially or otherwise from the AirBnb,” Helps stated. “I can confirm that Marianne Unger did not make a cash contribution to either of my campaigns but that she is a graphic designer and did contribute in kind services to both my 2011 and 2014 campaigns for graphic design and website. [sic] Elections BC requires that all in kind contributions are given a dollar value based on their value in professional services.”
Legal Action Looming?
Helps added that she would like the post removed and an apology from Victoria BC Today for the assumptions that they made. She confirmed that if such actions are not taken, she will be considering legal action.
This controversy comes in the midst of two related stories. On Tuesday, Mayor Helps released a blog post detailing plans for a focus group to address housing concerns.
On Thursday Victoria City Council will also consider a recommendation to limit short-term rentals such as those common to Airbnb.