The Seattle City Council’s Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee met on June 15, 2016 to discuss their proposals for regulating short term rentals. The meeting started with Public Comment, scheduled for twenty minutes on the agenda, that ran for over an hour. Over 50 attendees stepped up to the microphone to share their impassioned testimony in front of the Council Chamber’s standing room only audience, the Committee, and multiple local news cameras.
It was obvious from the comments, and loud audience support, that the majority were there to defend their short term rental related business from additional regulation.
There were several comments from short term rental operators about how this was a tool that allowed them to augment income to pay bills including their mortgage. Some were able to afford retirement by renting a room in their house, for some it was the centerpiece of their retirement plan. A few owners of businesses that manage short term rentals, a cleaning company, and employees of related businesses, all shared that they would be put out of business or a job if the proposed regulations were made law.
Many shared that they utilize a short term rental to house friends and family when they are in town, along with their neighbor’s friends and family who do not have extra space. Some were able to offer housing in areas where there are no hotels, or where hotels are incredibly expensive. Short term rentals offer a place to stay for visitors in town for medical treatment, those moving to town for work and looking for a long term residence or even a place for contractors or interns to stay who are temporarily in Seattle with one of the large tech firms. Some people commented that they are proud to act as a “cultural ambassador” for the city of Seattle with their short term rental.
Several commenters proposed the solution is to tax short term operators and use that money to provide more affordable housing. The audience was very supportive of the suggestion. One commenter suggested that the nice, high end units that are being utilized as short term rentals, once regulated out of the short term rental market, will still be unaffordable to the very people the Council is trying to provide housing for. Many said because of the structure of the regulation they would not be adding their units back into the long term pool at all.
There were one or two comments from those that were or are homeless, supporting the need for more housing. Some condo owners commented that a significant percentage of their building had been converted to short term rentals. Some short term rental owners thought the regulations as proposed were appropriate in their current form and supported the Council.
A commenter posed the following question, which was cheered by the audience: The tech industry has been a major factor in the housing shortage in Seattle, are they going to be made to participate in the solution to create more affordable housing?
After the Public Comment period the Committee discussed the proposal for regulation. Points of note from that discussion include the following:
- The committee acknowledged the public’s interest in additional taxation as a solution. Member Rob Johnson proposed further discussion on this topic in the next committee meeting.
- A committee member asked why the short term rental proposal was for only 90 days. A member of the group that crafted the proposal stated that they determined that was the breakeven point, by their estimation, at which it made more sense to covert a unit from a short term rental to a long term rental. The audience expressed a lot of dissatisfaction with this suggestion.
- The proposed timeline they shared includes another committee meeting on July 20th. A full council vote in August or September 2016 and implementation in 2017.
Here is a link to the Seattle City Council’s webpage relating to the regulation of short term rentals: http://www.seattle.gov/council/issues/regulating-short-term-rentals