Airbnb in The Valley – Part 3

  • Published in News

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

Is there a shortage of year-round rental housing in The Valley and, if so, does the number of people who rent their properties on Airbnb contribute to that shortage? That’s a hard question to answer.

Year-round housing and affordable housing have long been identified by planners and community leaders as an issue in The Valley and also in other resort areas. In this, the third and final piece in a series on the impact of Airbnb, The Valley Reporter explores whether short-term rentals take away from year-round rentals. Previous stories on the subject have examined the impact of Airbnb on local inn and lodge owners as well as why local hosts chose Airbnb and their experiences.

Interviews with local Airbnb hosts revealed that some are aware that their short-term rentals are removing properties from the stock of year-round rentals. Some have more than one rental and split those properties between short-term and year-round. But the reality is that renting via Airbnb is a financial decision that hosts make the same way year-round landlords opt for longer-term rentals.

RENTER’S HELL

Outside Magazine in a July 2017 article titled “Did Airbnb Kill the Mountain Town?” examines the issue carefully.

“In the Mountain West —“God’s country, renter’s hell,” as one alt-weekly tagged it — where towns are already chronically beset by housing shortages, traffic problems and the invariable ambivalence about sharing one’s slice of heaven with the tourists who help sustain it, the entrance of Airbnbs and VRBOs and HomeAways has heightened the tension. Some places, including Boulder and Denver, have passed tough regulations that permit only primary residents to rent out their properties for short periods. Other towns have taken the opposite tack, changing laws to allow previously illegal renting that was already on the rise, as happened late last year in Missoula, Montana,

In Bozeman, in Ketchum, in Jackson, in just about every destination or gateway town, one hears a similar murmur: Not only are short-term rentals squeezing the last drops out of the housing supply, but more pro­foundly, they are threatening the very character that drew in locals — and tourists,” wrote author Tom Vanderbilt.

WORKFORCE HOUSING

Vanderbilt interviews multiple people involved in housing in resort communities including Margaret Bowes who directs the Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST).

"For ski towns throughout the West, perhaps the most pressing challenge related to short-term rentals (STRs) is workforce housing. “It’s always an issue, and this has just exacerbated it,” Bowes says. “Homes that used to be rented to the workforce, that offered year leases, are suddenly being pulled out from under them and put on the short-term market,” Vanderbilt wrote.

"Later, as I walked back to the place I had rented — via Airbnb — a few blocks away, I thought of a line I had seen on the site: “Live like a local.” But what happens when locals can’t afford to live like locals?" Vanderbilt continued.

LOCAL EFFORTS

Last year, Sugarbush and the Mad River Valley Planning District partnered on a program aimed at finding more housing for seasonal resort workers. Tenants for Turns, as it was called, was developed at ski resorts in the West and it matches property owners with employees, offering landlords incentives such as ski passes and other perks for providing housing that is affordable to workers.

“We really played matchmaker,” said AnnMarie Todd vice president of human resources at Sugarbush. “This past year was the first year we offered it and we were pleasantly surprised. We thought two or three would be a lot and we had 28 applicants that completed the applicant process over 17 properties.”

The resort will offer the incentive again this winter and even had some return. “We’re really pleased, we had landlords come back,” said Todd.

The issue of year-round housing and affordable housing in The Valley existed long before the advent of Airbnb. A look at the 2017 Mad River Valley Housing Study put out by the Mad River Valley Planning District makes that clear.

REDUCING HOUSING SUPPLY

“Although online short-term rental platforms rose to prominence as a way for residents to rent out extra space to visitors and earn supplementary income, a growing number of units listed are considered “commercial listings,” or “entire unit rented out full-time.” Critics of these types of platforms argue that they take units off the market that would otherwise be available to local residents, reducing housing supply and increasing rents,” the study found.

In another survey conducted by the planning district on Workforce Housing Challenges, the study found that 92 percent of responding business owners agree that the current choices in the Mad River Valley are not adequate. Sixty percent said a lack of housing choices has specifically affected their ability to attract and hire employees.

Local efforts to increase affordable housing options have led to emerging partnerships between organizations such as the planning district, a local housing coalition, Down Street Community Development, Yestermorrow, Norwich University, Efficiency Vermont, with efforts focused on a tiny house initiative and zoning changes to allow denser development in village centers and outside of them.

INCREASING SUPPLY

It’s unclear whether restricting short-term rentals will create or free up more affordable housing.

“Which is why many feel that solving the Mountain West’s affordable-housing problem requires more than trying to curtail demand — you also have to increase supply,” Vanderbilt pointed out in Outside Magazine.

Liz DeBold Fusco, Northeast press secretary for Airbnb, reported that while there is no specific information about the impact of Airbnb in Vermont, academic research exists for more urban areas.

The NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy recently found that “short-term rental use is neither as extensive nor as profitable in New York City as many assume.” In fact, they concluded that the “break-even” point for landlords to earn as much on the short-term rental market as they would on the long-term rental market is 216 nights a year in New York City,” Fusco noted.  

“A separate, recent study out of UCLA found that Airbnb has “a precisely estimated zero effect on rental rates,” and that even in areas where Airbnb does have a modest impact on rents, that impact is muted where there are a high percentage of owner-occupied home sharers,” she added.

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