Another Voice: Short-term rentals: one homeowner’s perspective

I own a vacation home in Parkdale, permitted as a short term rental (STR). My wife and I lived there from 1998-2008. It is where our two sons first grew up. Since then, we have lived in our current home on the west side of Hood River County. My wife and I have worked in Hood River for 25 years. Our oldest boy just graduated Hood River Valley High School and our youngest is still in HRVHS.

In a decade of renting our Parkdale home as an STR, we’ve never had a neighbor complain to us or the County. Several of our adjacent neighbors use our vacation home for their family and friends. Our guests are pleasant, pie-shopping, recreating people on vacation. They infuse more money per day into our local economy than many of us. They shop in our stores and businesses and eat in our restaurants. They take their money from where they live and spend it here.

We don’t get rich off our home. The plan was to move back one day, or maybe our kids. Adding up housecleaning, plowing, utilities, firewood and maintenance, we’d do about the same renting our house full time. Adding up the time working on our house, we’d be better off renting it full time for sure. Our vacation home is modest. Where we live is more modest, so we use our vacation home when family and friends visit.

I don’t claim to have the answers with respect to affordable housing, but banning STRs is not the solution. Doing so failed to reduce home prices in Portland; likewise in Hood River. And banning STRs in Hood River County won’t reduce home prices here either.

Many STRs would revert to vacation use solely by their owners and friends. Or be sold to new owners, for use as their vacation homes.

High priced housing is a reality in desirable places due to demand, regardless of whether STRs exist. Aspen and New York City were unaffordable long before VRBO.

Our vacation home is basic, but with the view and land in what’s evolved into the most desirable county in Oregon, it would sell for more than is affordable. That fact won’t change, regardless of what STR policy exists.

After exhaustive comment at county expense in 2016, the county commissioners allowed up to 75-100 permitted STRs. Only 17 are permitted so far. There was never any intent that the STRs be owner-occupied. The STRs allowed were envisioned to be entire houses. For most vacationing families having the owner there would be, well, awkward.

An anti-STR group has gridlocked the county planning department you and I pay for with endless appeals, providing safe harbor for unpermitted STRs ignoring the 2016 ordinance.

The county commissioners made a well thought out decision in 2016, balancing diverging wants and needs of constituents. Cleaning up the language of the 2016 ordinance is all that should be on the table. But the vocal minority won’t accept what was decided and insists STRs be owner-occupied, even though this was never the intent.

The anti-STR group argues owner-occupancy will get rid of party houses and public nuisance problems. But per the county, such problems are rare with its STRs. And that’s what county enforcement is for anyhow. Shutting down STRs because of this conjured up issue is no more logical than shutting down yearly rentals because some create nuisances.

Hood River County planning staff is correct. The county’s STR regulations have requirements and conditions to keep STRs in check. STRs are capped at 75-100, rentals are limited to 180 days per year, standards exist, and a renewable license is required. We did things right for 10 years without having to pay money to the county for a license or getting our septic tank inspected, which didn’t need inspection. But it’s part of operating in our county now and necessary to follow these rules for the greater good.

It’s speculation as to how many homes located in the county, but outside the City of Hood River, flaunt the STR permit process. While the vast majority of non-permitted STRs are not going to convert into affordable housing, even if we can unearth a handful of homes where Hood River County median income can sustain the future purchase or full time rental thereof for hard working local families, that’s a win. But the county can’t go after the rule breakers because the anti-STR group has consumed all their time and your taxpayer money with their barrage of appeals against permitted STRs.

The Hood River County Planning staff believes the existing regulations work and have not been given an opportunity to be applied. They are spot on. Let them do their job.

The cost to county taxpayers from endless appeals is staggering. Targeting STR owners who follow the rules is not neighborly. Worse yet, this tactic is why the non-permitted STRs go unscathed.

Marc Geller is a resident of Hood River County.

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