Community Not Commodity

Invasion of vacation rentals puts residents on the back burner

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Families, students and residents in Santa Cruz are left with few housing options in a city overrun with vacation rentals during a severe housing crisis.

There are 372 Airbnb listings in Santa Cruz, 240 of which are entire homes for rent. These vacation rentals are only occupied 34.9 percent of the year, according to data collected from Inside Airbnb in January 2017, leaving these houses empty 238 days a year.

Many argue vacation rentals are not a problem because Santa Cruz relies on the tourism industry, which includes short-term rentals. But short-term vacation rentals are only beneficial for those who are in the financial position to own homes and take hundreds of rentals off the market for other residents. The profits made off of vacation rentals contribute to making the community unaffordable for Santa Cruz families, residents and students. Vacation rentals, such as Airbnbs, choke out low-income renters.

Short-term vacation rentals raise long-term rent across the city and county and shrink the available housing market. A 10 percent increase in Airbnb listings causes a 0.4 percent increase in rents and around a 0.8 increase in home prices, according to a July 2017 study published on the Social Science Research Network.

In June, Santa Cruz first introduced long-overdue plans for legislation to combat the invasion of short-term rentals in the community. The current legislative draft would cap vacation rentals at 200 existing, non-hosted rentals, preventing any new non-hosted rental within the city. The proposal would also limit homeowners to one short-term rental property after a three-year period, hopefully opening up more rentals for local residents. Currently, 32.5 percent of Airbnb hosts have multiple listings in Santa Cruz, meaning they could have multiple homes or multiple rooms in the same dwelling for rent.

In San Francisco, short-term vacation rentals have strict guidelines that protect residents. A short-term rental can only be rented out if it is the primary residence of the owner, not a vacation home or second home. Short-term rentals where the host is not present are limited to 90 days per year, rent control must be adhered to and hotel taxes are paid.

Santa Cruz needs to serve its residents, not tourists, by following in the footsteps of cities like San Francisco. It is time for residents to reinstate community. Neighborhoods are at risk of losing their culture and character. Businesses become dependent on seasonal tourists, hindering community development. If vacation rentals, which cater to high-income visitors, are allowed to run rampant without regulations, low-income renters will not be protected. Without these proper protections, low-income renters are put at risk and areas become gentrified.

Regulations on short-term vacation rentals would open up affordable homes for residents. More long-term residents could then build a more cohesive culture, increase voting in city elections and lobby for developments such as better schools. Vacation rentals do not elicit a sense of community in neighborhoods and the city needs to take a stand now before this situation gets more out of hand. Tourists do not bring lasting improvements to the community, residents do.