Homer is a pleasant town with more than its fair share of great amenities, including good schools, accessible health care, and unique shops and restaurants. There is adequate employment, a spotless public swimming pool and scenic walks including a beach with access to the public. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, with a pleasing undercurrent of sophistication.
Life here is fantastic until you venture into finding accommodation, and that’s where the difficulties begin for someone wanting to reside in this hamlet. The lack of available housing is daunting, and heavily associated with the escalation in vacation rentals. The harmful effects could be lessened by licensing and appropriately taxing this growing industry.
Airbnb and Vrbo have taken off in the area, with many residents benefiting greatly from the economic benefits of leasing their property to visitors. Numerous apartments have been withdrawn from the residential market due to the lucrative nightly rates available from vacation rentals. Accommodation shortages place local businesses under tremendous stress during the summer months, with employees leaving town frustrated over the lack of housing. This regularly leads to unplanned closures and irregular hours, inconveniencing both locals and visitors.
While it is understandable to develop further sources of revenue for the community, particularly in light of the uncertainties surrounding the fishing industry, this income comes at a cost in ways not often discussed. As mentioned, one of the unwelcome side effects of owner-leased vacation rentals appear as rental accommodation shortages (Homer City Hall, 2022). Not only is the practice consuming previously rented apartments and homes, but as a consequence, the rents of the remaining units are rising dramatically due to obvious supply and demand factors.
Anyone who has recently moved to town, who lives in a building being sold or converted into a summer rental, can testify to the difficulty in finding a residence. The profits are such that many outside enterprises have begun buying up local property, and offering these homes as vacation rentals. There are more than 2,000 active short-term rentals on the Kenai Peninsula, with around 31,000 total housing units. Anchorage also has just over 2,000 short-term rentals, but Anchorage’s entire housing stock is approximately 118,000 (KDLL).
Other cities and towns across the country have encountered these same issues and are taking action to reduce the resulting housing shortages, which primarily affect those on lower incomes. The overhead in running an Airbnb are minimal compared to that of a hotel or B & B, and they provide little employment or other services in comparison. Planning and tax changes could be shaped by successful actions in other cities, who have stemmed the flow of new and existing developments being predominantly tailored toward short-term rental accommodation.
While increased taxes and licensing mandates are never popular, the losses in rental accommodations are associated with direct financial and social impacts in other areas of the community. An inability to source staff lowers business output, and the stress placed on those searching for housing is troubling. While arguments such as “the more we build, the more people will come” have their place, the fact that staff cannot be sourced for long-term existing businesses is telling. The considerable revenue being generated by seasonal rentals, combined with the relatively low overheads and small staffing needs, should contribute in a way that reflects this reality.
If you would like to learn more, visit the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District’s 2023 Industry Outlook Forum, to be held 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, at Christian Community Church, 3838 Bartlett Street.
Darren Tivnan is an accomplished drifter and a proficient carpenter who is currently enrolled at the Kachemak Bay Campus in pursuit of a new career. This essay was written for Fundamentals of Oral Communication, a class taught by Heather Kallevig at the Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College, University of Alaska Anchorage.