By now most Bendites have either experienced the crunch of housing first-hand—or if not, they know someone who has struggled to find rental housing or to buy a home at a reasonable price, or who has otherwise noted how elevated prices and spiking demand are impacting the quality of life here. While a city such as Bend, with its relatively clean air, relatively low traffic, good schools, beautiful parks and amazing views is not likely to stop attracting droves of people to visit or to take up residence here, the housing crisis we have all experienced over the past decade or more has hit a new high—or low—during this pandemic, and we need new tools to address it.
With prices rising astronomically and no end in sight, it's time for local governments to increase their efforts to help provide housing for those who live right here—even if it means taking uncomfortable actions. Right now, many small businesses report struggling to find workers to staff their businesses. Some of those workers say the high cost of housing—or the lack thereof—is what is driving them out of Bend. In this way, our housing crisis is impacting not only individual quality of life, but also the economy.
While city and county officials have taken numerous steps over the years to address housing and homelessness, there's one opportunity that we see rarely discussed: Short-term rentals. Those who live in some of the inner neighborhoods of the west and east sides have already seen "neighbors" replaced by "guests" over the years, and with the advent of sites such as Airbnb, it's easier than ever for a homeowner to swap what could be housing for locals with a glorified hotel accommodation for tourists. Right now, the City of Bend has over 1,000 active short-term rental licenses, required for those renting whole-house rentals for more than 30 days per year. In 2020, 115 new short-term rental land use permits were issued in Bend. If each of those homes had a conservative estimate of two long-term residents in it, it means that last year, housing for around 200 Bendites went away. In total, thousands of Bendites would have housing if those houses were treated like homes and not hotels.
We know it can be more lucrative for homeowners to rent their houses on a short-term rental site instead of renting them to actual long-term renters. We know that some of Oregon's new rent-protection laws are scaring some homeowners away from renting long-term. With the hand of the free market at play, it's not shocking to see your neighbor decide to turn your neighborhood into a hotel zone—which is why we propose that once again, the City of Bend take a hard look at whether it isn't time to put a moratorium on issuing new short-term rental permits in the city. The pandemic has brought on multiple and ongoing states of emergency in our state—and this is just yet one more state of emergency that requires government leaders to respond.
Bend has plenty of lovely hotels, campgrounds and existing short-term rentals where tourists are welcome to stay and play. More real hotels—sited in locations designed for commercial activity and planned to meet the needs of visitors—are coming online all the time. But as we continue to wade through the many challenges this pandemic and its housing crunch has brought, locals should be looking at the city's short-term rental permit program with a keen eye toward whether that's the best use of local resources.
Short-term rental properties bring in additional room tax revenue for the City of Bend, to be sure—but is that revenue worth the opportunities that are lost when businesses can't find workers, and when good people leave town due to rising costs? In a housing crisis like the one we are experiencing, it's time to place our focus into managing growth and responsibly managing our tourists—and consequently placing the focus on the locals who keep Bend running.