How Short-Term Rentals Are Disrupting Communities and Driving Up Housing Costs?

Housing Costs

Short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway, have become a popular way for travelers to find affordable and convenient accommodations in various destinations. However, these platforms also hurt the communities where they operate, especially in places with loose or no regulations. In his new book, “Homesick,” Brendan O’Brien explores how short-term rentals are hollowing out communities, displacing residents, and inflating housing prices in three Western towns: Flagstaff, Arizona; Bozeman, Montana; and St. George, Utah.

Housing Costs

The Rise of Short-Term Rentals and the Decline of Neighborhoods

Short-term rentals have been around since the mid-1990s, but they gained popularity and profitability in the 2010s, thanks to the emergence of online platforms that connect hosts and guests. According to a report by AirDNA, a data analytics company, there were over 10 million active listings on Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway worldwide in 2021, generating over $100 billion in revenue.

While some hosts use these platforms to rent out spare rooms or their primary residences occasionally, others have turned them into a full-time business, buying multiple properties and renting them out exclusively to tourists. These hosts often avoid paying taxes and fees and comply with local regulations that apply to hotels and other lodging businesses. As a result, they gain an unfair advantage over the traditional hospitality industry and the local housing market.

In his book, O’Brien interviews residents, activists, officials, and experts who share their experiences and perspectives on how short-term rentals have affected their communities. He finds that these rentals have reduced the supply and increased the demand for housing, driving up rents and home prices and making it harder for locals to find affordable and stable housing. He also finds that these rentals have eroded the social fabric and sense of belonging of the neighborhoods, as residents are replaced by transient visitors who have no stake or interest in the community. He also documents the environmental and cultural impacts of the influx of tourists, such as increased traffic, noise, pollution, waste, and gentrification.

The Case Studies: Flagstaff, Bozeman, and St. George

O’Brien focuses on three towns that have experienced the growth and consequences of short-term rentals in different ways. Flagstaff, Arizona, is a college town and a gateway to the Grand Canyon, attracting millions of visitors every year. Bozeman, Montana, is a mountain town and a hub for outdoor recreation, drawing adventurers and nature lovers. St. George, Utah, is a desert town and a center for Mormon culture, appealing to religious pilgrims and retirees.

In each town, O’Brien reveals how short-term rentals have taken over a significant portion of the housing stock, creating a shortage of long-term rentals and affordable homes for sale. He also shows how short-term rentals have contributed to the displacement of low-income and minority residents, who are forced to move to the outskirts of town or other cities. He also exposes how short-term rentals have disrupted the character and cohesion of the neighborhoods, creating conflicts and tensions between hosts, guests, and neighbors.

O’Brien also examines the responses and reactions of the local governments and communities to the short-term rental phenomenon. He finds that some towns, such as Flagstaff and Bozeman, have tried to regulate and limit short-term rentals but have faced legal and political challenges from the state and the industry. He also finds that some towns, such as St. George, have embraced and encouraged short-term rentals but have overlooked or ignored the negative effects on the residents and the environment.

The Solutions: Regulation, Enforcement, and Education

O’Brien concludes his book by offering some possible solutions and recommendations for addressing the short-term rental issue. He argues that regulation is necessary and beneficial, as it can protect the rights and interests of all stakeholders, including hosts, guests, neighbors, and the public. He suggests that regulation should be based on the local context and needs and should balance the economic benefits and the social costs of short-term rentals. He also advocates for enforcement, as it can ensure compliance and accountability and deter illegal and unethical practices. He proposes that enforcement should be supported by data and technology and should involve collaboration and cooperation among different agencies and entities.

O’Brien also emphasizes the role of education, as it can raise awareness and understanding of the short-term rental phenomenon and its impacts. He recommends that education should target both hosts and guests and should promote responsible and respectful behavior. He also advises that education should involve dialogue and engagement among different groups and perspectives and should foster a sense of community and belonging.

O’Brien hopes that his book will inspire and inform readers who are interested in or affected by short-term rentals and will spark a constructive and meaningful conversation about the future of housing and tourism in their communities.

By Andrea Wilson

Andrea Wilson is a talented junior content and news writer at Scope Sweep. With a passion for writing and a dedication to delivering high-quality content, Andrea has quickly established herself as a valuable contributor to the team. Graduating from the prestigious University of Sydney, she brings a strong academic foundation and a keen eye for detail to her work. Andrea's articles cover a wide range of topics, from breaking news to informative features, ensuring that readers are well-informed and engaged. With her ability to research and present information in a clear and concise manner, Andrea Wilson is committed to providing readers with accurate and captivating content. Stay connected and up-to-date with Andrea's compelling articles on Scope Sweep

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