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Vacation Rentals Worsen the Housing Crisis

It’s already hard enough to find affordable homes in San Diego. Our elected leaders should not consider a proposal that will make it harder.

If Councilmen Chris Ward, David Alvarez, Scott Sherman and Mark Kersey get their way, up to 10,000 housing units in San Diego could be effectively taken offline, making the housing crisis we’re now facing far worse.

On Oct. 23, the City Council is scheduled to vote on Ward and his colleagues’ proposal, plus other vacation rental proposals. The policies Ward and his cohorts are proposing, though, will displace tens of thousands of San Diego residents over the next decade.

Voice of San Diego CommentaryIt’s already hard enough to find affordable homes in San Diego. Our elected leaders should not consider a proposal that will make it harder.

Lack of regulation and enforcement on San Diego’s existing short-term vacation rentals, which were deemed illegal by San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliot in March, has had a disastrous impact on the housing stock of our communities already.

In stark contrast to our elected leaders’ stated goals of increasing housing in coming years, however, the vacation rental memo released by four Council members in September shows their intent to turn houses into hotels.

It is especially strange considering Alvarez and Sherman sit on the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee, which recently released a report co-written with the San Diego Housing Commission recommending emergency measures to help alleviate the housing crisis. Short-term vacation rentals were not mentioned at all in the report.

In 2016, nearly all community planning boards in San Diego determined that the housing loss and other negative effects of allowing vacation rentals were too detrimental to our future to ignore. The Community Planners Committee recommended that the City Council continue to require housing in residential zones remain as housing for residents, not hotels.

Neighborhood planning groups are set up to give City Council members boots-on-the-ground advice on land-use issues that affect San Diego communities. I’m unaware, however, of any office meetings between Alvarez, Ward, Cate or Sherman and their community planners to talk about the short-term vacation rental issue.

Meanwhile, the offices of Alvarez, Ward, Cate and Sherman all took meetings with AirBnB’s local lobbyist this year.

The scariest part of the Ward-Alvarez-Kersey-Sherman memo is the allowance for each property owner to own three short-term vacation rentals. It is not hard to imagine a family who might amass up to a dozen vacation rentals by listing different family members as the owners. At the Ocean Beach Planning Board, I’ve seen families building short-term vacation rental businesses and lying about their brother or mother living in them regularly. The three- person limit will do little to limit housing loss.

Ward has described the proposal as a compromise. That’s true, but it represents a compromise between the wrong parties. They’ve listened to the loudest voices in the debate and created a compromise between wealthy property owners who buy homes and turn them into AirBnBs, and property owners who live near AirBnBs and think they are a nuisance. And what about all the people left struggling to find a place to live in our city? How do they benefit from this compromise?

A well-designed short-term vacation rental policy would be a compromise between people who need homes and people who want to vacation. Unfortunately, these groups have not been given a seat at the table.

At the Ocean Beach Planning Board meetings, I am constantly approached by citizens who were kicked out of their long-term rental so that the landlord could list it on AirBnB. And it’s not just existing housing that’s being lost, either. I see many construction projects that come through the Ocean Beach Planning board with the intention of creating short-term vacation rentals, not new long-term housing.

The real losers in this ongoing debate are San Diego’s middle- and lower-class residents who need a home to raise their family, and a roof over their head so that they can continue to contribute to America’s Finest City.

Blake Herrschaft is the vice chair of the Ocean Beach Planning Board. Herrschaft’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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