Gregg Blomberg’s excellent piece in last week’s Weekly brought up a number of important points. I should like to amplify one of them: affordable housing.
As Blomberg points out, the popularity of the San Juans has drawn affluent people to come here to buy or build homes, driving up the cost of housing. Of course new residents are welcome to come here, and many contribute their time, talent and money to efforts that enrich us all culturally and socially. And yes, the development of affordable housing by the Lopez Community Land Trust has ameliorated somewhat the shortage of housing for working people.
But there is a segment of the housing market here which troubles some of us. It is the promotion of second homes as short-term vacation rentals.
Vacasa, an out-of-state rental property management company, sends mailers to San Juan County property owners urging them to garner income by turning homes into vacation rentals. In the past these homes often were made available to working people who were residents of Lopez Island.
The attractiveness of a second home, as well as its affordability to prospective buyers, is enhanced by the potential income, much higher than that available via long-term rental, that accrues to the buyer. Such a buyer is not going to be a member of the community in any real sense, and his or her profits for the most part do not become part of the local economy.
Short-term rentals are ostensibly regulated by the county, but many are rented without going through the expensive permitting process, which includes input from neighbors. Meanwhile the health of the community is affected by tourist impacts and reduced availablity of long-term rentals.
In the time that Blomberg has lived here what he treasured upon arrival has been protected by the comprehensive plan, San Juan Preservation Trust and San Juan County Land Bank, as well as by the good sense of landowners. But this protection has created something we all in a sense own, a “commons” that is the total environment.
In my view, short-term rentals exploit this commons. As Blomberg wrote, it is “unfair to sell what you don’t own.”
Again, we welcome new members of our community. Absentee landlords, however, are not members of our community.