Woodstock votes yes on moratorium on short-term rentals

Last night, Woodstock City Council approved a nine-month moratorium on new applications from homeowners who want to rent their homes for short periods to visitors. New demands for temporary accommodation uses and residential conversions are also halted.

Woodstock Town supervisor Bill McKenna said the temporary limit on new short-term rentals would protect the well-being of its residents, especially those who have struggled to find affordable housing following the related housing boom. to the pandemic in the region. During the moratorium period, the city will revise its overall plan, which meets urban planning and design needs.

The break “will give us a break and an opportunity to take a look at our laws,” McKenna said. “This is not an effort to be more restrictive on development, but to look at the kind of development we need, namely affordable rentals and houses to buy so that we can maintain diversity in our community. “

The moratorium, and a previously approved cap that limits the total number of short-term rental units in town to 285, reflect a wider ongoing debate about the relationship between these rentals and the long-term housing stock. While local officials say the moratorium and cap are needed to tackle expanding affordable housing issues, landlords who rent out their properties on platforms like Airbnb say there is little correlation between their rentals. vacation home and long-term affordable rental housing inventory.

A spokesperson for Airbnb said the company is encouraging “city council to develop regulations that allow for more equitable access to housing sharing, which in turn will support the local economy.”

He continued, “We know that many homeowners are finding it harder than ever to make ends meet without the financial flexibility offered by home sharing, especially as the city council has reduced the number of permits available. last year.”

Airbnb host Michael, who asked not to share his last name, has owned his Woodstock property as a second home since 2004. He and his family actively use the house each summer and rent it out for short stays. the rest of the year because it “seemed unnecessary to keep it empty,” he said.

“We wanted to be part of the city as much as we could – our kids learned to swim at the city pool, took tennis lessons in the city and performed in shows around the city,” said Michael, who argued that he would not rent his to a long-term tenant, like with a standard one-year lease, because he uses his accommodation at different times of the year.

Loud and unfamiliar neighbors are another concern shared by opponents of Airbnbs. Michael said he carefully screens potential guests to make sure they don’t create a disturbance for neighbors, and he has fined all guests who collect a complaint. He said he had not needed to issue the fine in recent years.

Michael highlighted his employment with local housekeeping and landscaping departments as examples of how he used his short-term rental to support businesses in the city. In an Oxford Economics study released by Airbnb in May 2021, Airbnb hosts keep up to 97% of a listing fee and typically return that money back to the community by investing in local goods and services.

The previously approved short-term rental permit cap in the Woodstock took Michael by surprise.

“It was quite frustrating to get a notification that we had to get a permit, and in the same letter it said, ‘Hey, by the way, there’s no permit,'” said Michael, who received the letter in May.

Evaluate the real impact of short-term rentals

Michael is concerned that with the loss of income from the rental of his property, he will have to sell it. There is no guarantee that it will be sold to someone who needs long-term affordable housing – it could be sold to a wealthy investor who leaves the property vacant most of the time, resulting in loss of income. local economic benefits, he said.

McKenna agreed that the city sees some economic benefits from short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO, but he believes these rentals also come with an affordable and limited long-term rental inventory.

“I don’t believe short-term rentals are the total problem,” McKenna said. “But I think it exacerbates a problem we’ve had in Woodstock for a long time – it pulls affordable rental housing out of the market. “

McKenna said he heard some residents say they don’t support second home owners who want to list their homes when they are away. “However, this house will never be affordable housing [long-term] rental unit, ”McKenna said.

Where McKenna sees an opportunity is owner-occupied properties that also have a cottage or other accommodation on the same plot that could be better used for long-term rentals but have instead been rented out as short-term accommodation. . “This is where we lose our affordable housing,” McKenna said.

A Moody’s Analytics study on how to overcome the country’s housing shortage published in March of this year found that a housing shortage – which the study attributed in part to record wood costs as well as problems with supply and labor chain that limited the construction of new homes. – is a major contributor to the housing shortage and did not cite short-term rentals as a factor.

Meanwhile, the 2019 analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank created to meet the needs of low- and middle-income workers, recognized some economic benefits of Airbnbs, but concluded that those benefits do not outweigh costs to local jurisdictions in the form of tax revenues and potentially higher housing costs for local residents if enough properties for long-term housing were converted to short-term housing. The analysis also concluded that those who received short-term rentals were disproportionately white and wealthy households.

Management of short-term rental permits

Although Michael was unable to secure a short-term rental permit, he is still able to rent seasonally for stays longer than 30 days. However, that means his family will not be visiting Woodstock this summer for the first time since they bought the house 17 years ago.

“The city is inadvertently creating an economic commodity – these permits,” said Michael, who called for a system that allows waiting lists or more transparency around caps, or for the city to distinguish between real estate investors. and the people who come to Woodstock. for years.

McKenna agreed that the system is not perfect, especially because the permits were issued on a first come, first served basis, which has left a number of people short of staff. But, he says, these permits “should not be a lifetime license to the detriment of other owners.”

Kirk Ritchey, chairman of the City of Woodstock housing committee, said the number of permits, 285, was chosen based on the number of previous short-term rentals in Woodstock.

One potential scenario would be to switch to a system of rotating available permits. McKenna said all of Michael’s suggestions were also “potentially on the table.”

“While we take this nine month hiatus, we have a committee that will be looking at what changes we should make to the rental cap to comply with our overall plan,” McKenna said.

Short-term rental regulation laws aren’t necessarily new. All over the world, restrictions have been put in place – in Paris, short-term rentals are limited to 120 days per year; in London this number is 90; and in Amsterdam it’s 60.

Regionally, Woodstock is not alone. Saugerties is also looking for new ways to regulate short-term rentals after neighbors reported more noise complaints, and cities in the Capital and Hudson Valley region are exploring how to balance short-term housing. term with long-term housing needs.

Across the river in Red Hook, meanwhile, council members are pushing for a zoning change that would allow more short-term rentals in a larger part of town to boost the local economy .

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