Long-term Battle Over Short-term Rentals

The forces supporting and opposing the short-term rentals craze are facing off in Hood River. The outcome of the battle could have national implications for STR conversions in other small tourist destination towns.

Hood River’s housing stock has always included vacation rental properties. But two opposing trends have created a divisive community controversy over the STR fad.

One trend was identified in a recent city report, which projected accelerated population growth for Hood River — an estimated 4,500 new residents are expected to settle there in the next 20 years. 

The report indicated Hood River had just enough available land for housing to handle the growth. But, it said, because more homes were being rented out for short-term use, that trend could result in a practical supply shortage.

The other trend is the accelerating pace nationwide of conversion of homes and apartments to STRs, a trend that is reflected in Hood River. Investors, many from out of town, have been snapping up available homes there and renting them out through such services as Airbnb and vacation property managers.

The result, say the anti-STR faction, is a looming affordable housing shortage. 

Already, groups like Livable Hood River claim, the STR conversion rate (officials say STR numbers have increased from 50 to 200 since 2010) has driven up rents and home prices, locking many out of the local housing market.

Worse, they say, the absent homeowners attract thousands of  strangers to town who don’t spend much money in the area and are choking off the local hotel/motel businesses.

Nonsense, say homeowners with STR income streams, who argue they are exercising their property rights and bringing unprecedented tourist dollars to town.

The struggle is reflected in the response by the city government. The Hood River planning commission wants to crack down hard on STRs, and has recommended adopting a version of the “Portland Plan.”

That set of regulations essentially limits STR use to people who live on the property where the unit is located. Current owners would be given a grace period to comply.

The city council, meanwhile, is taking a generally more lenient view toward the absent owner situation, even suggesting that a quota system can be created that would limit the number of new STRs but still permit them to be owned by someone other than a full-time resident.

Bill Irving, a realtor and member of the planning commission, says it’s time for Hood River to accept that a certain percentage of homes will always be second homes, and adopt policies that will benefit the community while still minimizing conflicts with the STR use.

Irving was the lone dissenter to the planning commission’s proposal to limit STR use through tight regulations.

“We’re going to continue to be a place where people own homes which are not used by the owner full-time. We can't require them to be a resident in order for people to own a home here,” he says.

“We’re talking approximately 5% of our housing stock whose owners rent out their homes on a short term basis; it isn’t a significant contributor to the housing shortage for locals. I believe that we should let those people rent out their homes when they’re not here, generate some economic activity and bring some new people to Hood River. Would we rather see them sit dark and empty?”

Irving says he owned a STR a few years ago but doesn’t currently.

Irving says due to Oregon’s climate, most Hood River owners can only hope to rent their homes during the summer—“not enough to get rich from,” he says.

The outcome of the battle is still entirely up in the air, says Tina Lassen, a founding member of Livable Hood River. The council is expected to move forward on the matter soon.

But with both sides marshaling their forces, and with deep pockets on both sides (think Airbnb and Best Western), the fight could be a protracted and litigious affair, Lassen says. “This has already become a national test case whether we wanted it to be one or not."

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