Short-term rentals are destroying neighborhoods like East Hill
I live in an East Hill neighborhood of mostly middle income homeowners. Over the past decade, I have witnessed an increase in the number of young married couples moving to East Hill neighborhoods, with many families starting out. Homes – especially rental homes – have been affordable to them, but all of that is changing and at an alarming rate due to the socio-economic factors that have contributed to short-term rentals (STRs), including Airbnbs and VRBOs. .
My neighborhood is a safe, walkable, family friendly neighborhood where throughout the day there are neighbors walking, jogging, walking dogs and biking. You often see neighbors standing in the street talking to each other. You see children playing in the yards. There are mothers who push strollers. I enjoyed watching my neighbor’s kids grow from toddlers to adults. Neighbors spend time dining together and entertaining, or sitting together on porches socializing, talking to each other across the street or the fence, or just saying hello as they come and go from work. Sometimes there may even be a block party. This description gives you an idea of the character of my neighborhood.
But, the STRs threaten to destroy it and that of the others. STRs are essentially revolving doors for strangers in and out of homes, making neighborhoods transient in nature. This causes neighborhoods to lose their comfort and warmth. Houses in neighborhoods with STRs seem almost closed off and neighbors socially cold and distant from each other.
Out of 10 houses in my block, two (20%) in the past six months have become STRs. Pensacola, with a population of 56,000, has 5,600 STRs.
This stat may surprise most people, because walking past you cannot tell an STR from a long-term rental or an “owner-occupied” home. Because they are rented online, there are no rental signs to identify them. Some STR owners actually go so far as to disguise them as “living” homes, as the owner of one in my neighborhood did by erecting the “I love living in East Hill” sign in the front yard. But, if you were to live close enough to one to observe and experience how it works, there’s no problem telling them apart.
There are nuisances associated with them such as noise, garbage sanitation violations, parking vehicles on the street, and interference with neighbors exiting/entering their driveway. Street parking interferes with garbage collection, postal service and other mobile services. There are safety issues with the excessive parking of cars on the streets, from that of children playing, to that of vehicle collisions due to blind spots. There is an increase in traffic which exacerbates the problem. Emergency vehicles struggle to easily access homes.
And there are negative economic impacts to consider. Long-term rentals are hard to come by due to their STR conversion rate, and those that are available are becoming unaffordable due to limited supply and demand. At what percentage will this displacement of dwellings “inhabited” by STRs stop?
These STRs are like thieves in the night when they move into a neighborhood and rob it of its character. By the time you realize it’s next door or in your block, it’s there permanently and there’s nothing you can do about it as there’s no ordinance prohibiting them from settling where they want .
Fairhope Alabama had the same issues with STRs in their neighborhoods, but when enough residents complained, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting STR rentals for less than 30 days. But, Florida law prohibits local governments from prohibiting or regulating the length of stay of STRs.
I’m not against STRs, but this is a motel-like business and not appropriate in traditional residential neighborhoods and should be in business or shopping areas. Florida’s statute prevents cities from controlling them through zoning.
Pensacola residents must come together to demand better ordinances to protect neighborhoods from STRs and to change Florida’s statute that prohibits local governments from regulating them. You can get started now by voting for candidates who will fight to protect our neighborhoods from STR destruction and joining your neighborhood association. Contact the Pensacola Council of Neighborhood Association Presidents (CNAPP) at cnappensacola.com for information about your association, including the name of its president. Join CNAPP’s FB and your neighborhood association. Contact our state representative and tell them to work to change the status. Reach out to your councilman and mayor and lobby for better ordinances protecting our neighborhoods from STR nuisance and lobby our state representative to change the law.
Bill Young is a retired environmental scientist/aquatic biologist and has resided in East Hill Pensacola for 42 years.