Get involved in solving vacation rental problems | Letter

Short-term vacation rentals have become a subject of increasing concern, due to their impact on nearby residents and because they exacerbate affordable housing problems. San Juan County is considering changing the rules for these rentals and has scheduled a hearing before the planning commission on April 21. A copy of the staff report with the proposed changes is available at The hearing is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. April 21 in the county legislative hearing room in Friday Harbor. Prior to the hearing, written comments can be emailed to Erika Shook at While vacation rentals are not the primary cause of the affordable housing crisis, they exacerbate the existing problems. In addition to taking units out of the rental pool, the demand for these profitable, commercial investments puts additional upward pressure on housing values, making housing less affordable for islanders.

Vacation rentals can also change the character of neighborhoods and reduce commercial lodging revenues. If those operating vacation rentals pay their staff lower wages and provide fewer benefits than commercial lodgings, workers have more difficulty living here. Other communities have adopted regulations to minimize the adverse impacts of short-term vacation rentals. Austin, Texas limits vacation rentals in residential zones, that are not owner occupied, to a maximum of 3 percent of the residences in each census tract. This increases to 25 percent for multifamily units in commercial zones. San Francisco allows permanent residents to rent their home or apartment for up to 90 days each year, but the host must reside in the unit at least 275 days a year. Second homes cannot be used as short-term vacation rentals.

While the proposed changes would address some problems, conversion of homes to vacation rentals would still be allowed. With citizen support, the regulations could, however, be revised to reduce impacts to the affordability of housing for islanders, and to better protect our neighborhoods, commercial lodging businesses, and quality of life. If you have an opinion or suggestion on this issue, send it in or speak at the hearing.

Shireene Hale, Robin and Barry Jacobson, Dave Zeretzke, Bob Gamble, Jonathan and Jennifer Bryan, David Turnoy, Mary Wondra, Susan Dehlendorf and Eileen Gale