It seems like a few issues are coming to a head in Teton Valley.
First, the level of desperation in the rental housing market has reached a fever pitch. Some of us may have thought in the first months of COVID, as the demand for vacation rentals took a nose dive, that more housing would become available for the people who live, work, and raise families here year round. Instead, the real estate market is hotter than ever and it always seems like there are 30 seekers for every available rental, most of which are prohibitively expensive or don’t allow pets.
Second, it has become clear to even a casual observer that outdoor recreation hot spots are at the top of everyone’s list this year. The river is packed, there are five RVs or Sprinters in every tiny corner and pocket of Teton Canyon, and the grocery store is hopping with tourists. Because of austerity measures left over from the spring, many local businesses came into the busy season understaffed and are now unable to find more employees. And while we don’t have clear numbers on visitor vs. community transmission, it’s probably fair to assume some of them are bringing the virus with them.
Where do these two groups, the desperate house hunters and the gleeful tourists, intersect? Vacation rentals. In Idaho, local governments can’t exercise much control over how vacation rentals operate. But what if there was a gentle but concerted campaign of encouragement for people who own rental properties to make the switch from short term to long term?
If just ten property owners across the valley decided to set an example (how about a few elected officials, for starters?) by removing their listings from AirBNB and inviting a year-long lease, that would take the pressure off ten families. That’s significant.
Who would bear the brunt of the change? Well, tourists would have slightly fewer choices in housing for their national park trip in August or ski trip over President’s Day Weekend. And the owners will probably bring in less in rent. But think of the positives:
-Constantly turning over a vacation rental and being available to communicate with visitors 24/7 is expensive, or time consuming, or both.
-There are no lodging taxes on long term rentals.
-As March, April, and May showed us, good vacation rental business isn’t guaranteed, while with a long term tenant you’re more likely to bring in a consistent, albeit smaller, income.
-Operating a busy vacation rental sometimes has the side effect of alienating your full time neighbors.
-Providing more long term housing strengthens the workforce, schools, and community, bolsters local businesses that struggle to retain staff, and puts less pressure on services, roads, emergency responders, and recreation resources.
Perhaps it’s time for a nonprofit or government entity to start an advertising campaign encouraging property owners to make the switch. And next time you get annoyed by the car full of Texans pulling up to a vacation rental next door, look up that listing on VRBO, contact the owner, and offer a friendly suggestion—why not make the switch?