Lost in the emotional arguments about short term vacation rentals (STRs) is a simple fact: an overwhelming majority of Hood River residents support STRs and smart policies that both address community concerns and maximize economic growth. Many of us support our families through tourism revenue, and STRs are a critical part of that.
In fact, in a survey of Hood River voters released, 70 percent of respondents believe STRs are important to the local economy and tourism industry. What’s more, the vast majority of these respondents do not own a vacation home, which shows how the economic benefits of STRs extend beyond the renter-vacationer transaction. The survey also found that only 11 percent of respondents think short term rentals should be banned and an overwhelming 69 percent support smart, sensible policies that include registering all STRs.
So why is city council considering legislation that goes against what voters have indicated they want to see when it comes to STRs? The proposed city council legislation would make secondary-home rentals in residential areas illegal and redefine what a primary residence is, purposefully excluding Hood River residents who spend more than three months in another location. These burdensome regulations discriminate against certain homeowners and create different sets of rules for residential and commercial zones, and fail to recognize that businesses and families can coexist, and co-habitate, in the same area.
Worse, the overzealous rules would only push a burgeoning rental market underground, making it much more difficult for the full community to reap the economic benefits. And as the Hood River survey demonstrates, the tangible benefits of the current STR are multi-fold.
First and foremost, STRs are a source of income for many local residents. These people pay their property taxes, raise families in Hood River, and contribute to the local economy. Opponents claim that short term rentals take valuable housing stock away from local residents, but fail to realize that it is Hood River residents — people who live and work in our community — that temporarily rent out their homes. Under the new legislation, Hood River residents who are often traveling or spend the summer months in other areas would no longer be able to rent out their homes.
Second, STRs provide an important alternative to hotels for traveling families and groups, therefore bringing economic opportunities to a diverse set of communities. Restricting STRs would only turn away potential Hood River visitors and take away the dollars they spend at small businesses in residential zones.
Third, STRs generate significant revenue for the city ($220,000 in 2015), which can be used to fund schools, maintain roads, and build affordable housing stock. By shrinking the STR market, the proposed policies would shrink the city’s revenue.
At Lovable Hood River, we’re not advocating for a regulatory-free approach, as some groups have erroneously suggested. We think that smart and sensible regulation — which includes requiring all STRs to register with the county and pay taxes — benefits the property owner, the visitor, and all local residents. But the current proposal before the City Council is clearly misguided, disrespects fundamental, constitutionally-guaranteed property rights, and hurts the local businessman as much as the STR renter.
It is understandable if some residents are fearful of STRs — local and national stories often pick up on college partiers or groups that are pushing out affordable housing. But these anecdotes are just that: one-off examples that do not reflect the majority of the STR market and the majority opinions of local residents.
On April 25, the City Council will hear new testimony on STRs. As the debate over STRs continues, we urge council members to remember the simple facts: a majority of residents approve of STRs and benefit from the vast economic activity they provide.
Libby Taylor and Lesley Lamb are co-owners of Hood River Vacation Rentals.