Short Term Rentals: Time to Pause

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Short Term Rentals in Manzanita: Time to Pause

Guest Column – Deb Simmons

My husband and I are long-time residents of Manzanita, drawn to this incredible place by its natural beauty, sense of community, and quality of life. For 13 years, I taught at Nehalem Elementary School, and no doubt have had many of your children in my classroom. I have good friends and neighbors here, and we are invested in this town. It is our home.

So it pains me to say that the character of our community is being threatened by the city’s dependence on income from short-term rentals (STRs).

Of course, we should welcome visitors, but there needs to be a better balance; the city, first and foremost, must serve the needs of the people who live here.

We have a comprehensive plan that is law, but is not being honored. It states that:

“Manzanita’s primary asset is its residential character.”

That Manzanita should “foster housing and living environments to meet the needs of families of different size, income, age, taste and life style.”

That the Comprehensive Plan is not to be used for the benefit of a few property owners or special interests, but for the city as a whole.”

Let me ask you: Are short-term rental homes that accommodate 21 people in harmony with existing homes? Where do 21 people park their cars in a neighborhood? A house with 21 visitors is not a neighbor, it’s a business.

Short-term rentals used to help second homeowners cover some of their bills. But they’ve become big business, operating in the heart of our residential neighborhoods. The owner of an average short-term rental collected $30,000 or more in rent in 2019-2020, compared to $7,500 in 1994-95.

Homes used to be rented primarily in the summer. Now they’re leased year-round. In 15 years, the STR usage has increased nearly 400% in our residential neighborhoods. Larger houses have replaced small beach cottages, bringing more visitors. Although there are seven companies in town to manage all the rentals, the oversight still falls mostly to local residents.

They are the ones who call, time and again, when six or eight cars show up at a rental house, when the limit is half that.

They are the ones who have to ask renters, time and again, to please take the party indoors after 10 p.m.

They are the ones who endure the constant stream of cleaners, repairmen, and visitors in neighborhoods of single-family homes.

Sure, you need a permit to operate a short-term rental, and yes, the city caps, and enforces, the number allowed at 17.5 percent of existing homes. But that cap is citywide and misleading. In areas close to the beach and town, where most visitors want to rent, the concentration of rentals can top 50 percent. Many of our friends have STRs on two or three sides of their home – new people every time a car pulls in. Does that sound like a neighborhood to you?

The explosion in short-term rentals has virtually eliminated long-term rentals for families and workers. It’s just not as lucrative for the landlords. The result is fewer young people and families can afford to call Manzanita home and our local businesses can’t find the help they need.

So I’m gratified to see that the city is holding a work session on Wednesday, from 3-5 p.m. to discuss the future of short-term rentals. It is long overdue. I hope you’ll turn out to share your experience – and a vision for the future of Manzanita — because our current path is not sustainable.

We need to take back our city. Put a pause on short-term rentals until we find a sensible way to regulate them. Look for other sources of revenue to fund the services we need. Update and honor the comprehensive plan – and adhere to the principals it lays out.

Forward-looking cities have gotten smart and are acting to preserve their communities. We need to do likewise.