Short-term rentals resentment escalates in Great Barrington as regulatory talks stall | South Berkshires
GREAT BARRINGTON — As officials continued to get stuck Monday on several points of a draft short-term rental bylaw, questions arose about a possible conflict of interest of a board member who opposes the core of the proposal – the appearance of which, he says, he disclosed to city and state officials last year.
The council, which is due to have a bylaw ready by April 4, will continue to work toward a compromise in the coming weeks.
Several residents accuse Ed Abrahams of a conflict after learning that his domestic partner is renting his home on Airbnb.
It was not brought up at Monday’s meeting, and those who emailed The Eagle about it later requested anonymity. They pointed to the registered mortgage showing that Abrahams name was on it for about three months, beginning on December 30, 2020. The deed shows he was discharged on April 5, 2021. His partner repaid it in May, when it closed its doors. old house, he said.
The idea of finding a way to avoid Airbnb excesses has been around since 2019; the settlement was first proposed in September 2021, through a joint housing subcommittee. Abrahams objected to the settlement, primarily to its 90-day annual limit on rental days. He also thinks it is divisive to impose stricter rules on second home owners or part-time residents.
Abrahams told The Eagle he gave his partner the money to buy the house, and she is now the sole owner.
“She bought the house before she sold her other house, so I used my retirement money so she could buy it without a bank loan,” he said.
“That was before she did short-term rentals,” he said. “When it started it was not a problem.” It is also his primary residence, so the settlement would not affect him, Abrahams added.
Her partner asked that she not be named, in order to protect her privacy.
Abrahams said the state ethics commission told him his rental of the house was not a dispute, after he called in early November to disclose. On November 16, he filed a conflict of interest statement with the city clerk’s office.
Abrahams said the couple keep their finances separate. He also underscored the challenge of perceptions in a small town, especially as the latest incarnation of the bylaw, led by council vice-chairman Leigh Davis, gives full-time homeowners an advantage.
“We all live in this town, and [most board members] are owners, so we all have this conflict,” he said. “Leigh’s proposal facilitates benefits for full-time residents. Does that mean we all have a conflict of interest? »
A member of the five-person council did so, the state ethics commission said. Eric Gabriel had to recuse himself from the deliberation because he owns several buildings in long-term rental, and that this association, in the future, could constitute a conflict if he were to switch to short-term rental.
The situation of Abraham’s partner illustrates one of the reasons the proposal has drawn backlash in the community.
“She’s cared for people with special needs for 20 years, works in a coffee shop and tries to send her daughter to college,” Abrahams said of her domestic partner renting the home.
The wide variety of short-term tenants is why building a compromise has proven difficult – and bitter.
The current Davis proposal allows a full-time resident/owner to offer two separate entire residential units for short-term use, provided one is their primary residence. Part-timers or non-residents can only rent one unit short-term. A full-time resident is defined as someone who lives in the city more than 183 days per year.
The concept aims, in theory, to stop out-of-control rentals that disrupt neighborhood cohesion, drive up home values and eat up housing stock. It comes amid a nationwide housing crisis.
“Crazy, Crazy Money”
The 183-day low is where the advice stuck on Monday.
Davis has attempted to reduce the number of days to 150, to accommodate people who are “involved in the community,” although they may not meet the 183-day minimum.
But Abrahams challenged that assumption, giving the example of a 64-year-old resident who might move out part of the year but wants to keep her house.
“It always divides us,” he said. “It just lets a few more people in the door before we split.”
Council chairman Stephen Bannon said he’s heard suggestions that a landlord apply for a commercial or residential license and sign an affidavit that they live in the house during the year.
Davis said there was too much room for dishonesty. She got to the root of why she proposed the settlement in the first place.
“My biggest point is what we’re trying to do is create more housing options,” Davis said. She accused Abrahams of setting up roadblocks.
There must be a numerical limit, otherwise “loopholes” are opened, and the main goal of controlling prices and freeing up housing stock for residents cannot be enforced, she added. She also said people who own property for short-term rental have “other options”.
Controversy over the 90-day limit has also resurfaced – and led to a new debate. Board member Garfield Reed said the $31,000 he calculated a homeowner could earn over 90 days “should complement anybody very well.” For him, it is “my moral problem”, in what he considers to be the priority over money in the conversation. The rules do not specify how much money someone can win, he later noted.
Abrahams and Bannon said the city shouldn’t tell people how much money is enough for them.
“And if they make $70,000, we’ll bless them,” Bannon said, noting that the associated money is spent on local businesses like construction and cleanup. He also said he was not convinced the regulations would free up the housing stock for the workforce.
Several residents told council they wanted to see the resentment eased. Frederica Sigel also said the digital residency guidelines testify to flimsy general “operating principles” on the issue.
“The idea of 150 days doesn’t mean anything,” Sigel said. “That’s not a legal definition.”
James Garzon said he saw three families evicted from homes to be converted into condos. Still, he wants to see a compromise from the board.
“I think trying to restrict profits is un-American and unconstitutional,” Garzon said. “We should all come to an agreement and compromise. This is what makes this country great; that’s what makes Great Barrington great. We want to have a community for everyone.”
Garzon said he felt the sting of capitalism last weekend as he tried to buy a three-family house to offer for long-term rental.
“I outbid, which is the American way,” he said.
Greg Lipper is a full-time resident and consultant who rents a house on a short-term basis. He said he manages the tenants, and that makes a big difference in the culture of the neighborhood. He also said the 183 or 150 day rule was too complicated for the city to follow and would open loopholes.
He agrees that the city should steer clear of corporate investors. The proposal would not free up housing stock or drive prices down, especially in the short term, he said.
Residents of the New York borough of Manhattan made offers to buy his house as a weekend home. Lipper spoke about what has plagued or blessed – depending on who you are – the Berkshire property market since the pandemic first hit.
“There’s crazy, crazy money coming out of town, and that’s just until interest rates skyrocket or we have a deep recession that’s going to overshadow everything we do. in the short term,” he said.