Vacation rentals exacerbate affordable housing and homeless crisis

Stephen Malkowski

On Jan. 24, our county commissioners will vote on a vacation rental ordinance that will allow for unlimited vacation rentals with inadequate regulations throughout Clatsop County.

This, at a time when other communities in our region are tightening restrictions on the number of vacation rentals and expanding their regulations to mitigate and protect their communities from the continuing conversion of housing rentals to vacation rentals.

This vote, if it passes, will do the opposite of protecting our county.

Our quality of life and livability are at stake. Once this land use wall has been breached, there will be no going back.

Reflecting the sentiment of our county in the recent ballot measure, Gearhart affirmed stronger vacation rental limits and regulations by a decisive 77 percent voter margin.

Therefore, it seems inconceivable that any county commissioner could vote for this ordinance, in defiance of this overwhelming public mandate rejecting these measures.

While I am a local lodging owner, I am coming at this as a concerned resident and small business employer who creates local jobs and cares greatly for our employees.

The biggest and most difficult challenges confronting all of us in this area, both immediately and in the future, is affordable housing.

Over the last 10 years it worsened every year. During this same period, vacation rentals in Clatsop County rose 100 percent.

A report from UCLA highlights that nationally, every 10 percent increase in vacation rental listings resulted in a .39 percent increase in rent and a .64 percent increase in house prices. Putting that into context, rents rose 7.5 percent annually between 2012-2017 in Clatsop County, meaning that over a third of rent increases in that time frame can be attributed to vacation rentals.

The “affordability crisis” disproportionately impacts low- and middle-income individuals, many of whom are now spending upwards of 40 percent of their income on rent, a 9 percentage point increase over the last 14 years.

On top of this, individuals who hope to own a home are being priced out of their ability to buy a house, unable to meet the sustainable threshold of their income going towards a mortgage payment.

The upshot is that all of this triggers instability for working families with children in our county, in addition to creating downward pressure on our increasing low-income and homeless population.

Unlimited vacation rentals are making it difficult for most individuals to live in their current neighborhoods. As long-term residents get priced out of the neighborhood, who remains? Only those who already own a home, and don’t rent it out short-term.

Goodbye new families. Goodbye young couples struggling to pay the rent. Goodbye students, artists, seniors, and anyone who can’t afford to compete with vacationers’ budgets. Goodbye neighborhood diversity, goodbye affordable housing.

Some facts:

• Vacation rentals are a rapidly increasing component of visitor accommodations in Clatsop County.

• The vacation rental marketing platforms have effectively incorporated single-family homes in residential neighborhoods to the county’s lodging rental unit pool, thus competing with residents for these units.

• There is a measurable shift in housing supply, otherwise available to the county’s working families, to vacation rentals and other nonresident-serving uses.

• Additional regulation and mitigation can limit the loss of affordable housing units otherwise available to the county’s working families.

The growing number of vacation rentals in Clatsop County creates two impacts related to housing supply.

First, by increasing the supply of lodging and accommodating additional visitors, vacation rentals increase economic activity and employment in the county’s tourism business sector. This increase in employment creates demand for housing. Given that the tourist sector employment is dominated by service industries including lodging and food services, with average wages below $30,000 per year, there is, and will continue to be an increased demand for affordably priced housing as the industry grows.

Second, as whole housing units are shifted from providing housing for the county’s low-income and working families to providing lodging for visitors, there will be less housing supply. As these two impacts contribute to what is a larger housing supply problem in Clatsop County, they should be mitigated as a part of a broader effort to expand housing available to the homeless, economically disadvantaged, and the county’s workforce.

The shift of long-term housing to vacation rentals that has already occurred, along with the expectation for the continued rapid growth of the vacation rentals, strongly suggests that additional restrictions, regulations and mitigation measures are needed to protect the county’s supply of affordable housing.

Therefore, county commissioners need to place additional restrictions on vacation-rental housing, lest it make the supply of affordable housing scarcer than it already is.

If commissioners do not limit vacation rentals it will take even more housing away from those who live and work here, benefiting only tourists and other temporary visitors, while leaving our residents and families in the cold.

Any new ordinance needs to provide reasonable and necessary regulations for the licensing of short-term rental of residential dwelling units in order to:

1. Ensure the safety, welfare and convenience of renters, owners and neighboring property owners throughout Clatsop County.

2. Balance the legitimate livability concerns with the rights of property owners to use their property as they choose.

3. Recognize the need to limit vacation rental options within neighborhoods to ensure compatibility, while recognizing the benefits of vacation rentals in providing recreation and employment opportunities.

4. Help maintain the county’s needed housing supply for residential use.

5. Protect the character of the county’s residential neighborhoods by limiting the number and concentration of full-time vacation rentals. In the adoption of these regulations, the county should find that the transient rental of dwelling units has the potential to be incompatible with surrounding residential uses. Therefore, special regulation of dwellings listed for transient occupancy is necessary to ensure that these uses will be compatible with surrounding residential uses and will not materially alter the neighborhoods in which they are located.

Vacation rentals are disrupting neighborhoods, making it harder for individuals and working families to find affordable housing and forcing an increase in our homeless population.

I encourage you to email the commissioners your feelings regarding vacation rentals and affordable housing before Jan. 24. Send your comments to Scott Lee (slee@co.clatsop.or.us), Sarah Nebeker (snebeker@co.clatsop.or.us), Lisa Clement (lclement@co.clatsop.or.us), Kathleen Sullivan (ksullivan@co.clatsop.or.us) and Lianne Thompson (lthompson@co.clatsop.or.us).

Time to speak up. Take action today!

Stephen Malkowski is owner of Arch Cape Inn and Retreat in Cannon Beach and a former planning commissioner of Clatsop County.

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