Vacation rentals alone are not the cause of the affordable housing crisis | Editorial

By Mandi Johnson

Six months ago – when the holiday rental permit moratorium began – we wrote an op-ed explaining our position on the issue. With the county council making the decision to end or extend the moratorium next month, we would like to reiterate our sentiments on the matter.

Vacation rentals belong in our community. RV owners range from a handful of people who have second homes here and rarely visit, to those who live here year-round and constantly contribute to the community.

There are certainly enforcement issues in terms of cracking down on illegal rentals – but a moratorium and additional rules against those who have legally allowed vacation rentals will not solve this problem. Vacation rental owners are not bad guys.

Legal vacation rental owners are required to go through several steps to receive the permit, and then they must continue to work to stay within the required parameters. Anecdotes about party houses and poor tenants need to be backed up with data before they can be taken seriously enough to accuse all legal rental landlords of wrongdoing.

In 2018, the county council updated its vacation rental regulations, requiring existing permit holders to certify compliance each year. In February of this year, San Juan County Community Development Director Erika Shook told the county council that San Juan County had issued permits for 1,002 vacation rentals — 430 are active; 202 inactive; and the others are non-compliant.

The exact number of unauthorized rentals is unknown, however, over 40 unauthorized vacation rentals and imposed over $100,000 in fines. The fine for operating a vacation rental without a license is $2,300. The county relies heavily on the public to report such violations. If you know someone is operating an unlicensed rental, contact the Planning Department at 360-378-2354.

Another concern often confused with vacation rentals is the lack of affordable housing. Although vacation rentals can contribute to the problem, they are not the whole story.

Also in 2018, county voters approved a 0.5% real estate excise tax to support affordable housing development in the county. The tax is imposed on the purchase and sale of real estate in the county, with the buyer paying 99% of the tax and the seller 1%. The REET is the highest it has ever been thanks to a real estate market that is currently booming. In just a few years, REET has helped fund affordable housing projects on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan.

This affordable housing for low income people is fantastic, but it also leaves out a good portion of the population who make too much money to be considered low income and eligible for this housing, but too few to afford to live. ‘to buy a house. This pushes out a large portion of the working class, causing a problem we are seeing now – a lack of employees to fill support positions.

Based on our observations, we are not convinced that vacation rentals are the root of our affordable housing crisis, or that abolishing or restricting them will actually help solve the current problem. We urge the board to consider other critical factors.

According to the Washington Department of Employment Security, San Juan County’s average annual salary in 2019 was $38,163, just over half the state’s average salary of $69,615. Overall, San Juan County ranked 37th out of 39 Washington counties in wage income.

The median home price is around $600,000 and the median long-term rental cost is $1,000. Washington State’s minimum wage is $13.69, however, Seattle passed a law in 2014 that gradually raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021. The cost of living in Seattle is only slightly higher than San Juan County. Perhaps increasing the county’s minimum wage would help attract and retain workers, but housing them remains a concern.

We implore the council to find solutions to the root cause of the housing crisis and not get too tangled in the weeds of vacation rental.

About Michael B. Billingsley

Check Also

Tourists are canceling trips to Ireland as renting cars is now more expensive than buying used

Tourists are fleeing Ireland and canceling their vacations due to the exorbitant cost of car …