Guest commentary: County commissioners dispute Airbnb’s STR report, saying it selectively ignores many important realities

Guest commentary

AirBnB recently commissioned a “Colorado Short Term Rental Impact Study” to demonstrate the positive economic impact that short-term rentals (STRs) have on five resort-rural counties in Western Colorado — Grand, Routt, Pitkin, Summit and Eagle.

It was successful in this objective by demonstrating the dollars that flow into these communities through tourism. As local leaders in resort-rural counties both inside and outside this region, we acknowledge the benefits of STRs to our tourism-based economies, but the report inaccurately denied any associated costs of the industry.

AirBnB narrowly focused on positive impacts, and facts appear selected to craft a story that is not entirely true, especially when it comes to negative impacts created by the STR industry.

Our communities are experiencing an acute housing crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Our workforce is unable to find housing at any price, much less a price they can afford.

The report claims “there is a surplus of housing units” and that “there was not a shortage of these rental units” (priced $1,200 to $2,300 per month). This does not represent what our communities are experiencing, as any local business owner will tell you.

The pressures on the housing market are not entirely due to STRs. However, it is misleading to claim that there is no relationship. The report creates a very narrow set of criteria for STRs “most comparable to workforce housing” (apartments rented for less than $150 per day available more than 15 nights per year) and concludes that only the 3% of STRs meeting this criteria are “suitable for conversion to workforce housing.”

By selecting only data that fits their narrative, AirBnB’s analysis is far from complete. They ignore several important facts, including:

● Service workers rarely rent a home by themselves on a single income.

● The opportunity for a high ROI on a home (in the form of nightly lodging income) drives investment buying and increases the price for a house, which impacts the market writ large;

● The rental data used for this analysis was a five-year average from 2019, which does not reflect current conditions that have changed dramatically during the past 3 years;

● The report touts the increase in jobs created by STRs as part of the benefits experienced by our communities, but fails to account for the relationship between job increases and increased competition for housing resources;

● By their own analysis, the local workforce does not make sufficient wages to afford the majority of the STR properties because their tourism-related jobs (touted as a benefit to the community elsewhere in the report) pay less than 60% of the Area Median Income (under $36,400 a year);

● This five-county region is not one housing market. Concluding that half of the “affordable” STRs are in Summit County demonstrates that there was never any serious analysis of the real housing market. A unit in Summit County is of no use to someone who works in Pitkin or Routt County;

AirBnB’s proposed solution is local government subsidy of affordable housing units. There is no mention of the fact that our communities have subsidized affordable housing for many years, nor is there any suggestion about where the additional revenue needed to provide subsidies would come from. This recommendation is especially ironic considering that STRs are classified as residential property in Colorado and pay one quarter of the property tax rate of a hotel, which is classified as commercial, although they are engaged in the same activity.

AirBnB did exactly what they set out to do, which was to provide a report to demonstrate their positive impact. We should be skeptical when considering what this report does and does not tell us. Each of our communities has a housing needs assessment. Most of these assessments directly contradict the claims of AirBnB regarding workforce housing.

The report counts 49,200 STRs in this five-county region accounting for between 32% and 67% of each county’s housing inventory. Unlike an STR, any hotel constructed in any of these counties would require the owners go through planning and zoning processes designed to elevate economic benefits to the community and minimize negative impacts. When a project is proposed, the community and local government have the opportunity to discuss and plan for impacts including traffic, water, sewer, and employee housing, etc. The cumulative impact of STRs likely exceeds that of hotels when these impacts are not accounted for.  

We need giants like AirBnB to partner with us to manage this industry by being transparent and accountable rather than seeking to avoid responsibility as this report does. We must acknowledge and plan for the challenges the industry brings to our communities. As local elected leaders across resort communities in Colorado, we urge AirBnB to work in partnership with us by acknowledging both the positive economic impacts and the negative community impacts their industry creates and to be partners in identifying opportunities to address these issues creatively.

Beth Melton, Routt County Commissioner; Dara MacDonald, President of Colorado Association of Ski Towns; Elisabeth Lawrence, Summit County Commissioner; George Marlin, Clear Creek County Commissioner; Greg Poschman, Pitkin County Commissioner; Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner; Jeanne McQueeney, Eagle County Commissioner; Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County Commissioner; Josh Blanchard, Summit County Commissioner; Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County Commissioner; Liz Smith, Gunnison County Commissioner; Matt Scherr, Eagle County Commissioner; Roland Mason, Gunnison County Commissioner; Tamara Pogue, Summit County Commissioner; Tim Corrigan, Routt County Commissioner; Tim Redmond, Routt County Commissioner.

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