Gulfport officials promise action on Airbnbs

Gulfportian Robert Salta cited data that shows that for every 1% increase in Airbnbs, overall rents also increase – by the same amount.
Adobe Stock

Spurred by two public consultation meetings, Gulfport officials pledge action

The current issue of short-term rental properties in Gulfport dominated discussion and public comment at the May 3 meeting of the City Council.

Motivated by appeals from other residents as well as problems they have observed in their own neighborhoods, Council has asked City of Gulfport staff to gather information that might resolve the issue on two fronts: legal surrounding the possibility of implementing some form of rent control, and the potential costs associated with strengthening the ability of code enforcement to ferret out illegal rental activity.

No less than half a dozen speakers during the public consultation addressed these issues.

Robert Salta noted that in previous discussions of the issue, there has been little to no mention of its economic effect on the rest of the community. He cited data showing that for every 1% increase in the number of Airbnbs in a particular city, overall rents increase by the same amount. He also gave examples of cities like Boston and Barcelona where rents have skyrocketed because of it.

“These are massive rent increases that we have when we are already in the midst of a rental crisis,” Salta said, adding that a move to strengthen enforcement of illegal activities would inevitably allow the city to save money in the long run.

Noreen Smith has said that after moving to Gulfport nine years ago and deciding to make it her retirement home, she may have to move on because living here is too expensive. The rent for her 600 square foot residence has risen 50% in nine months, she said.

She listed several friends who have already moved away or may do so very soon, including some who sleep on other people’s couches because of this problem.

“It’s quite sad and it’s very, very scary,” she said. “It really is a crisis that is happening here. These rent increases and short-term rentals are pushing us all out of town. We are losing the people who created Gulfport, and that worries me.

Smith read what she said was state legislation that allows local governments to implement rent controls ‘when there is a housing crisis sufficient to create a threat to the public’ . She left this documentation with the city clerk so officials could review it further.

10-year-old resident Linda Breen thanked the Board for not changing the existing Gulfport Ordinance and risking the potential loss of any possible governance in this area due to recent actions at the state level, which have abolished the internal regime. She was one of many residents who expressed satisfaction with this, and Council was unanimous in its opinion that any action taken on the road does not in any way imply a change to the ordinance.

“Illegal Airbnbs have created a false market of supply and demand for rentals, and home prices that have created a severe housing crisis for hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals and families in our community,” said Breen, who added that proper action could result in rents. prices are stabilizing in a more reasonable range and could bring some residents who left to return.

“Illegal tenants have no incentive to do anything differently,” she said. “If a penalty is minimal, there is no incentive to stop illegal activities.”

Some simple math on Breen’s part suggested that if the illegal tenants were fined $1,000 each, it could easily fund all the extra resources needed for code enforcement, which is currently handled by a single member. city ​​staff.

Eddie Ford, who moved to Gulfport two years ago, said he went from renting to owning his residence and did it just in time before it became unaffordable. A software developer by profession, he offered free assistance to the City in the form of an app that he said would streamline reporting of illegal rentals. He asked for the opportunity to meet with Gulfport officials later to find out exactly what would be needed to put his plan into motion.

“I love this town and I hate to see all my friends move away because of greed,” he said.

Karen Love has made it clear that she favors increased City involvement.

“Why don’t we enforce our residential ordinances?” Love asked. “Get another code enforcer and do it.”

A Seaside Villas resident who took part in the public comment over the phone said her rent has risen more than 20% this year and she knows of others who have seen theirs rise even more. She said seven of her friends have had to leave Gulfport in recent months due to rent increases. As a paraplegic in a wheelchair, she said she was particularly concerned that rentals listed on Airbnb and VRBO are not required to be wheelchair accessible.

Council member Michael Fridovich recounted a somewhat amusing exchange he had at a grocery store with an out-of-town visitor.

“You have way too many Airbnbs here,” she said. “In our town, we wouldn’t allow them.”

Fridovich simply replied: “Most of them are illegal.” That immediately ended the conversation, he said, because he knew this woman was staying at a short-term rental herself.

Illegal tenants have no incentive to do anything differently,” she said. “If a penalty is minimal, there is no incentive to stop illegal activities.”

Council member April Thanos acknowledged that the owners of many of these properties thought they were improving the area because they maintained them appropriately and attracted tourism, which helps local businesses. She noted one such rental in her neighborhood which she says operates legally.

“But there’s always someone different every month,” she said. “You no longer have any neighbors. People left. »

Councilman Paul Ray said when he heard the names of some of the people who left town, it impacted him because he knew many of those people. He lamented how this situation changes the landscape.

“What I fell in love with in Gulfport was the people,” he said. “The more of these people that move, the more we lose the character of Gulfport. And that’s pretty much the end of us.

Ray also cited difficulty in enforcement, such as homes in his neighborhood that host late parties for which the police are often called. Each time such a situation is resolved, a new group of tourists moves in the following week and it all starts again, he said.

Mayor Sam Henderson has requested that city attorneys find out what legal options the council might have in regards to resolving the rent issue, as was suggested during the public consultation. He also pointed out that not all tenants in town fit into the villain category.

“Not everyone comes from elsewhere and scams tenants,” he said. “Some are just trying to make extra money and do a good job.”

Councilman Paul Ray said when he heard the names of some of the people who left town, it impacted him because he knew a lot of those people.

But, he added, he knows the problem is real because he has a family member who will be changing residences this summer due to high rent, possibly moving in with him or another relative.

City Manager Jim O’Reilly reminded council and the public that there were essentially two separate issues at play. increased application of the code.

“We have tools, but it’s a question of resources,” he said. “If the council wants to do that, we can go ahead and get the message out to those who are illegal.”

O’Reilly noted that in Indian Rocks Beach, where some of his friends are selling their homes and moving, the city government has changed its ordinance and now has no enforcement mechanism due to recent interference. of the state in the domestic system. After this comment, all board members reiterated their intent not to do so with Gulfport’s current order.

The city receives numerous phone calls each week from businesses asking where short-term rentals are allowed, according to O’Reilly, and staff tell callers it’s not allowed in about 97% of Gulfport. This leads many owners to simply sell to someone else, he said.

“The hospitality lobby is against [short-term rentals] because hotels and restaurants want customers on campus,” O’Reilly said. “Realtors are simply looking for a product to sell. You have two of the largest lobby groups in the state of Florida battling it out.

Not everyone comes from elsewhere and scams tenants,” he said. “Some are just trying to make extra money and do a good job.”

No such dispute exists within the Gulfport City Council.

“There are a lot of things we disagree on here, that’s for sure. We had our rounds,” Henderson said. “If we didn’t have different opinions, there would be no point in having five people on this board. But I can safely say that no one sitting here wants to sell this place to people coming from outside with a lot of money.

Henderson reiterated that there are real issues to be resolved with regards to how Gulfport can properly regulate all of these issues, complying with state and federal regulations and avoiding lawsuits.

“It’s a place where we’re all on the same page, and we’re going to explore what we can do to prevent that from happening,” he said. “A lot of developers come here and build houses to the max. It takes us away from a storm to be a very different place. But the storm we’re facing is not a hurricane; it’s the interest and money from people who don’t have a very good idea of ​​what’s going on here.

Comments are closed.