Oregon town ponders onerous short-term rental rule

Bridge over Columbia to Hood River Oregon Cascade Mountian

The Hood River, Oregon, City Council has delayed its decision until May 9 on an ordinance that would restrict short-term rentals to a family’s primary residence and ban them in granny flats. Here is the portion of the letter we sent to the council members and mayor:

R Street opposes the kind of restrictive ordinances the Hood River City Council is proposing. For starters, short-term rentals – especially in vacation-friendly communities such as Hood River – are sources of income, jobs and economic growth. Rather than have empty rooms or houses languish, STRs let owners promote what these cities should applaud: making it easier for people to come to town, spend their money and enjoy local amenities.

While we understand concerns about neighborhood character, the prevalence of STRs suggests that, quite frankly, the nature of the community already has changed. By putting severe limits on strong demand for short-term housing in residential areas, such laws merely drive the process underground, creating black markets and depriving cities of revenue and the ability to enforce reasonable regulations that uphold the quality of life. In other words, underground businesses are far more difficult to tax and regulate than legitimate ones.

We’ve all seen neighborhoods and houses disrupted by unruly neighbors – many of whom have been long-term renters or even owners. The key with those situations, as with STRs, is to police the bad behavior, not to shut down productive uses of property or undermine people’s property rights.

In my reporting, I’ve seen older, decrepit neighborhoods upgrade because of the profits possible from STRs. It can be an admirable source of regeneration in older cities (such as Anaheim, California, for instance). It’s a different story in sought-after Hood River. But the affordability argument is something of a canard. This is from the above-mentioned R Street study: “There’s little evidence the current or near-term-future scale of short-term rentals is sufficiently large to have a significant impact on housing affordability.” Usually, the affordability problem is driven by regulations and restrictions that make it too hard to build enough homes to meet the needs of a growing population. That certainly is a problem in many parts of Oregon.

Hood River is considering a policy that would harm the local tourist trade, the local economy and property rights. All types of STRs – both primary and secondary – should be legalized and prudently regulated.

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