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Short term rentals are an opportunity for some, but are impacting affordable housing


Boise, Idaho, is one of the country's most expensive housing markets. And the city is the latest to try to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb to deal with the crisis. But an ordinance unveiled this week has ignited controversy. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: When Liz Bridges steps outside her small cottage near the Boise River in a popular whitewater park, she sees her old mostly working-class neighborhood being transformed into something of a hotel district.

LIZ BRIDGES: You know, every day or two days or three days, there's a whole new slew of people.

SIEGLER: Three Airbnb units on this block, including one next door marketed as a villa - $527 a night. There's a sleek new pool and hot tub too.

BRIDGES: Maybe I watched a little bit too much "Ozark," but I don't know who these people are. I don't trust it when there are cars coming from three or four different states, and it just doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel safe. It doesn't feel like a community anymore to me.

SIEGLER: Bridges is a retired teacher. She's lived in Boise for 30 years, and she's worried that all the new short-term rentals are gobbling up badly needed long-term housing. Rents here have risen by a staggering 40% since the pandemic, and a recent estimate showed the number of Airbnbs in the city has tripled since 2016.

BRIDGES: And I'd like to see regulation put in place so that people who are committed to this community can live in this community and not have to drive an hour. I don't want to see the creation of LA Basin here in the Treasure Valley.

SIEGLER: Facing growing pressure, Boise's mayor, Lauren McLean, who campaigned on smart growth, has proposed an ordinance. It would require all short-term rentals to get an annual license from the city and carry insurance like any other business. This is so far a limited proposal and likely won't have an impact on affordable housing.

Chris Runyan helped form Protect Boise Neighborhoods, a group pushing for a tougher crackdown.

CHRIS RUNYAN: I feel like the industry and technology got way ahead, and the people that are, you know, representing and managing the city are way behind.

SIEGLER: Some booming mid-sized cities like Boise have put caps on the number of short-term rentals operating in hot neighborhoods. Others have tried to ban them outright with little success. In hard-line conservative Idaho, there are already rumors of private property lawsuits. And then some people living in expensive neighborhoods have come to rely on the income from renting out their property.

MEGAN LAWSON: When we talk about short-term rentals, we're careful to not condemn the idea...

SIEGLER: Economist Megan Lawson tracks housing at the Bozeman, Mont., based think tank Headwaters Economics.

LAWSON: ...Because they do offer an opportunity for people who've been living in these places and are dealing with rising cost of living. It offers them an opportunity to continue to afford to live in these places.

SIEGLER: This is part of Jennifer Carr's story. She's a young realtor and a lifelong Idahoan. When she and her husband bought what they called their dream home in Boise's trendy North End, they kept their old house nearby and decided to Airbnb it.

JENNIFER CARR: I got to be honest. Like, during the summer, it's, like, we could have easily lived off of it no problem.

SIEGLER: Now they have plans to put a second home on the app with her husband basically treating its management as his full-time job.

CARR: I feel bad because I'm also seeing and hearing about so many people not being able to find rentals. And when they do, they're just - the prices are just astronomical. But at the same time, it's like, well, this is kind of one of those scenarios where this is our future. We've got to look out for what we're doing and our goals.

SIEGLER: But Carr also thinks short-term rentals need some regulation. Many are businesses, she says. It appears Boise has more time to debate any fallout. City leaders here this week delayed vote on their ordinance.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.


Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
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