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Shortening short term rentals

From the editor—

La Conner staff and the planning commission are updating the Town’s short-term rental regulations. These rentals are only permitted in the commercial zone – in commercial buildings. What purpose will changing these regulations serve? Whom will benefit? What is broken that has to be fixed?

Google “short term rental critique” and this article is near the top: “Affordable Housing and the Impact of Short-Term Rentals.” Staff at the Municipal Research and Services Center wrote it for local officials. That is an in-state nonprofit organization with the vision of “empowering local governments to better serve their communities.” It defines itself as providing “services to all 281 cities and towns in Washington.”

The article offers in conclusion: “For those communities wrestling with a tight housing supply and a strong tourist/visitor market, however, affordable housing is another significant policy factor to weigh when a local government is considering how strictly to regulate short-term rentals. … [M]any experts believe that STRs do have a negative impact on affordable housing at the local level, especially in high-tourism communities.”

Who has asked the planning commission and staff to expand short term rentals into town neighborhoods?

For years there has been passionate lip service about expanding housing to working class wage earners. This language is in La Conner’s comprehensive plan:

“The Town faces new challenges and opportunities as it works toward providing housing options for present and future generations. Our community has low and moderate wageworkers. Since a community benefits from its workers, it has a responsibility to ensure they have a desirable place to live. There is a growing concern over rising housing costs and affordable housing.”

But in typical even handed fashion, the plan also commits La Conner to: “working to encourage the availability of affordable housing for all economic segments of the population.” The only “availability” of housing built by for profit developers in the last seven years has been for the over half-million dollar-plus economic segment of the population.

Residents need to insist to the town’s elected officials and staff that they stop “encourage[ing] the availability” of housing for the already well-endowed financially among us. Given the resources the property-buying class has, why aren’t town policy and staff efforts 100% – exclusively – focused on dwelling units for the “low and moderate wageworkers” who have to drive to their jobs here?

It took at least five years to build five dwellings in Channel Cove south of Caledonia Street. La Conner’s government played little if any role in that. The town has a comprehensive plan that calls for encouraging “affordable housing for all economic segments of the population.” At the Sept. 12 town council meeting, Councilmember Mary Wohleb voiced the interest of absent Councilmember MaryLee Chamberlain that a moratorium be considered for short term rentals.

Enacted, it would be a baby step recognizing that to advance the needs of moderate wage earners, the desires of “all economic segments of the population” cannot be met. The buyers of $1.3 million – or even $759,000 – homes need to fend for themselves – and quit hogging planning staff time and resources.

Chelan County’s code regulating short term rentals states that it is necessary to protect “year-round residents’ enjoyment of their homes and neighborhoods by minimizing the nuisance impact of short-term rentals on adjacent residences and by minimizing the detrimental impact of excessive short-term rentals on the affordable housing supply.’

Chelan County elected officials and staff are not concerned about some residents trying to gain extra income by renting out their homes while they, what – go elsewhere for leisure and vacation?

While Labor Day has passed, we can continue to ask and sing the question, “Which side are you on?”


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