“My bedroom acts as my living room, my dining room, my den, my office — all in this 12-by-12 space. [Now, even] low-income housing is being priced out of the water for a lot of us who are just trying to get by.”-Sean Bailey, Steamboat Springs resident.
Just like many mountain communities in Colorado and across the country, the situation in Steamboat Springs is not ideal. The Associated Press reports that Steamboat Springs is taking two important measures to address its housing crisis that has been at least partially caused by short-term rentals (STRs). In November, city voters will decide on whether the short-term rental industry should be taxed at 9% in order to fund affordable housing projects.
The second measure is banning new short-term rentals in parts of the city. The new Steamboat Springs ordinance is relatively similar to the one that was just passed in Breckenridge. The red zone, which covers most of the city, will not allow new short-term rentals. This zone will still allow current STRs who have been hosting guests for the past twelve months to continue to operate. The yellow zone caps the number of short-term rentals, and the green zone, which is around Steamboat Resort, has no cap on STRs.
This is great news because the AP story on the situation sounds dire. It is estimated that 30% of housing units in Steamboat Springs are vacation rentals. Multiple residents that were interviewed described challenging living conditions, with common monthly rental rate hikes. According to Zillow, the average rental rate for a two-bedroom unit right now is $3,100 a month. Those who want to move out of expensive living conditions face years-long wait lists to enter affordable housing.
Fewer workers in Steamboat mean more job openings for pivotal positions. The Yampa Valley Medical Center, which is where skiers go after a major injury, has seen its job openings spike from twenty-five to seventy in the past few years. The city’s police department has had to cut back on services, and with a shortened staff, the time it takes to respond to an emergency has gone up.
The Yampa Valley Housing Authority is trying to solve this crisis. Unfortunately, out of the ninety apartments that were recently developed by them, there were around 1200 applications. Their solution to the high demand is the Brown Ranch. The Yampa Valley Housing Authority plans to build 2300 affordable housing units on the 556-acre Brown Ranch, located just outside of Steamboat. This week, Routt County announced that they’d be giving $1 million to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority for planning the buildout of Brown Ranch. The first phase, which would feature 500 units, could start construction in 2024.
There are still some people who are in denial about the damage short-term rentals and rich out-of-staters have caused to mountain towns. Robin Craigen, who is coalition Vice President and Co-Founder of Steamboat Springs Community Preservation Alliance, gave this head-scratching statement:
“The short-term rental industry brings people to town, funds the city, and you want to tax it out of existence? It doesn’t make sense.”
Airbnb conducted a study to show its benefit to Colorado, as short-term rentals “support 13,300 jobs in popular Rocky Mountains counties and, it argued, have little impact on housing prices.” What the study didn’t factor in was that only 3% of STRs can be affordable enough for workers, and housing construction hasn’t been able to match the rapid job growth in mountain towns.
Expedia Group, which owns VRBO, says short-term rentals are good because more properties mean more growth and revenue. They released this statement to the AP:
“Vacation rentals provide a diversity of accommodation options for visitors, help some vacation homeowners and residents afford their homes, and are a key revenue generator in local economies — providing jobs, income, and taxes to local communities.”
While STRs were initially a great option for those hoping for an alternative to an expensive hotel, the massive growth of Airbnb and VRBO has accelerated many towns’ and cities’ housing crises. I hope the short-term-rental fanbase reads the Associated Press article and starts asking themselves what they can do to stop the housing criseses they’re helping to create across the country.
Image/Video Credits: Howelsen Hill, Steamboat Resort, Associated Press