DeFrates column: VRBOs — the housing elephant in the valley
Are you one of the hundreds of people scrambling to find housing in the valley this season? Do you know someone who is? What if I told you there were currently 912 living spaces available from Glenwood Springs to Aspen?
It’s true. There are nearly a thousand places to choose from. Imagine that instead of living out of a van or on a couch, and eventually settling over an hour away from where you work, under a landlord who reads your mail, you could have the pick of single rooms or small homes in any community throughout the valley. Sounds great, huh?
But of course, there’s a catch. You see, to access those amazing opportunities, you actually can’t live here. All of those lovely homes, rooms, basements and ADUs are reserved for people who are on vacation. According to AirBnB, there are 228 in Glenwood Springs, 141 in Carbondale, 235 in Basalt, and an impressive 307 in Aspen.
It’s time to address the elephant in the valley. Short-term vacation rentals are crippling an already-crunched housing situation. By removing viable living spaces from the rental market, almost 1,000 homeowners are driving away qualified teachers, police officers, firefighters, tradesmen and other essential workers who serve our food, fix our roads, and clean our homes and hotels.
I personally know of at least five amazing teachers who left the valley to find more affordable places to live, and I have heard of many more. I know several people in the nonprofit sector who have had extremely stressful and negative experiences with landlords because, on moving to this valley to start a new job, they had to take the first chance they got just to be able to find a room to sleep in.
If this was happening nine years ago, my husband and I would have missed out on one of the best rentals we ever lived in. The last rent we paid before buying our first home in 2011 went to a place which is now a VRBO. Finding housing was bad enough back then, and we weren’t even competing with weekend warriors.
As of Sunday night, the popular Roaring Fork Roommates and Rentals Facebook page from the last week alone showed twice as many “in search of” posts as there were posts offering housing. Many of the people currently searching are excluded from even the slim pickings of rentals because they committed the unforgivable crime of having children or pets. But thank goodness that Gary from Kansas City can have a nice week with his fiance in a little place near the river in Carbondale. Those other guys will be fine on the couch while their parents leave at 5 a.m. to get to Aspen for work. Maybe something will open up soon.
Now, I do struggle with the solution here because homeowners have a right to do with their property what they want. And we live in America, where we have long lauded the opportunity to make a penny at anyone’s expense. And the City Council of Glenwood Springs is obviously OK with this development, having opened up pathways for illegal rentals to be legitimized and OKing vacation rental in several subdivisions.
And homeowners know they have a great market. People will always be vacationing here; our valley is a beautiful place to be. The outdoor industry is experiencing a tremendous nationwide boom, and we are one of the Meccas for adventure. So they will probably be able to draw a pretty tidy profit from that renovated garage space.
We can quibble about the taxes brought in by their visitors (although, trust me, they’d stay somewhere else and still spend money), and I’m not even going to elaborate on the argument regarding the losses to legitimate lodging businesses like actual BnBs and hotels.
Living here, we all are acutely aware of the very finite resources we have when it comes to space and development, and the nature of our seasonal jobs, and it is undeniable that rentals will always be essential to sustain the economy of the Roaring Fork Valley. Because of this, when someone chooses to offer their space as a vacation rental instead of long-term housing, they need to think about how that choice will impact their community.
So if you are one of the thousand homeowners in this valley who decided to hook up with our nation’s latest trend in travel, the next time you hear anyone lament their terrible living situation, or shake your head at the family that uproots their kids in the middle of the school year for yet another move, or complain that you just can’t hire good, qualified workers, you need to stop and admit that you are actually a part of the problem.
Lindsay DeFrates lives in Carbondale and writes a monthly column appearing on the fourth Tuesday of the month.