Short Term Rentals in Rockland – Knox County VillageSoup
On September 12, Rockland City Council was scheduled to vote for the first time on a proposal to phase out non-owner occupied short-term rentals from residential areas of Rockland. In the end, after an incredible turnout (I counted 75 people on the Zoom call at one point), the majority of councilors voted to postpone it “indefinitely”, killing the proposal – for now at least. .
Many people (mostly real estate agents and unoccupied short-term rental property investors) had acted stunned and aggrieved by this proposed elimination, and asked for more time, more community conversations, more city-sponsored workshops. Yes, more community conversations are a good idea, but we also need action.
Rockland’s municipal government has been discussing housing issues for years — hosting housing workshops and housing committees — but has often been blocked from taking action. Part of the reason why it is so difficult for municipalities to act against gentrification and the housing crisis is due to the ruthless capitalist system in general which treats housing as a commodity, but also because at the municipal level of the Maine, municipalities are very limited in what they can do. One of the few things a municipality can do to intervene in the housing crisis is to limit short-term rentals.
Short term rental is big business. In 2021, Maine real estate owners earned more than $180 million through Airbnb alone, not including other short-term rental sites. Who benefits the most from non-owner occupied short-term rentals in Rockland?
The code office’s December 2021 list of Airbnb permits in Rockland, to the best of my ability to decipher it, shows 36 names that have non-owner occupied STRs in Rockland. 67% of real estate investors who manage non-owner occupied STRs do not live full time in Rockland. 53% of Rockland’s non-owner occupied STRs are owned by out-of-state real estate investors. These investors live in Indiana, Connecticut, Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, Colorado, Kentucky, Washington, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, etc. but retain a profitable portion of Rockland in their investment portfolio, all while removing these homes from year-round housing options.
Many of these landlords were fierce in their opposition to the proposal, but would it really cause them such agony to rent out their investment property year-round (ideally at an affordable, user-friendly price since tenants, after all, are paying for the investor’s equity) or sell now when prices are extremely high?
When you get to the crux of the matter, the statement that it’s more important to have short-term, non-owner occupied investment properties in residential areas than to free up those homes to provide more roofs throughout the year over people’s heads is just plain cruel.
Locals live in cars, motels or are stuck with friends and family, sometimes forced to stay in abusive situations, seeking advice on local Facebook groups for housing options, but, other than that, on how they can keep pipes from freezing on a camper in a Maine winter. The housing availability crisis (not even the affordability crisis) is so severe that the local homeless coalition has been forced to resort to tent distribution. No, the short-term rental proposal wasn’t going to magically solve the housing crisis, but if it ended up providing another ten more homes year-round, wouldn’t it be worth it?
More than 88% of those who voted against the Sept. 12 proposal make their money from real estate or own non-owner-occupied short-term rentals themselves. Not everyone who spoke against mentioned that they benefited from owning non-owner occupied short-term rentals; I found their information by cross-referencing Rockland’s short-term rental permits. About the same number of people spoke out in favor of the proposal as against, and many more of those who expressed support were Rockland residents.
So what’s next? If politicians continue to fail to develop strong policy, perhaps it will be up to citizens to present a well-planned set of housing policies for a citizen vote. Unfortunately, housing initiatives sometimes fail with voters as well.
Sometimes the proposed policies are flawed, but more often than not the wealthy forces that rise up against humane housing policies are too powerful. In 2015, Airbnb flooded San Francisco with an $8 million propaganda campaign to stop voters from enacting restrictions on short-term rentals. Airbnb won. Even in small and lovely Rockland, as soon as Airbnb got an idea of this proposal, they emailed their Airbnb hosts in Rockland and urged them to get the Rockland City Council to vote against it.
Becca Shaw Glaser
Chronicle: Short-term rental, affordable housing, my apartment with garden