Airbnb is coming for our communities. Is that a good thing?

Mountain towns across the United States have been particularly shaken up by an influx of Airbnb hosts and guests. After a 1995 law banning all short-term rentals in Sedona, Arizona, was overturned in 2017, many families were displaced by landlords looking to make extra money. In 2021, about 17 percent of the available housing in Sedona and nearby Village of Oak Creek was listed on short-term rental sites, according to a study about short-term rentals by local real estate consulting firm Elliott D. Pollack & Co. The study also found that the average home price in Sedona increased by 45 percent from 2015 to 2019. 

“The decline in the supply of long-term rental units has torn at the fabric of the community,” the study says. “In 2019, the school district closed one of three elementary schools. The high school graduating class is down to about 50 students, about one-half of what it was five or six years ago. The district has now added 7th and 8th grades to the high school so the building can be fully utilized. Little league baseball and football programs are no longer organized because young families are leaving the city.”

Prices spiked again during the pandemic real estate boom: the median price of a single-family home in Sedona rose 64 percent between October 2020 and 2022, according to Wired.

In response, Sedona and other mountain towns have tried incentivizing property owners to put their housing back in the long-term market, to varying degrees of success. Last summer, short-term rentals were starting to decrease in Sedona, according to Red Rock News, which published an optimistic editorial that the light was “at the end of the hallway” for the town’s Airbnb plague.

Summit County, Colorado, launched the Lease to Locals program to convert short-term rentals to long-term homes. As of last year, owners could get up to $22,000 per year to subsidize rent capped at $1,000 to $1,500 per bedroom per month. But ultimately, this, too, was short-term—the program was expensive, and as new workforce housing has become available, it’s ending this year. This fall, the county hopes to incentivize employers to subsidize their employees’ housing instead.

That’s another tricky issue—while more tourists can mean more jobs, the squeeze that short-term rentals have had on affordable housing means there’s often nowhere for those people to live.“Airbnb allowed the amount of tourism here [in Sedona] to double, which means there’s more workforce needed, and at the same time decreased the housing available,” Shannon Boone, housing manager for the City of Sedona, told Wired.

The influx of tourists into otherwise residential neighborhoods has also proven to be a serious nuisance for many urban communities.“You would see tourists on the streets in neighborhoods where there weren’t any hotels,” and the sounds of suitcase wheels could be heard at all hours, New Yorker Murray Cox told the magazine Reasons to Be Cheerful. As tourists took over residential buildings, they made residents feel like they had accidentally moved into a hotel. “In some cases they would be so uncomfortable they’d feel forced to leave,” he said.

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