Preserving rental housing in Eugene: the negative impact of Airbnb + other short-term rentals

When I moved back to Eugene a year and a half ago and began encouraging Seattle friends to visit me, I was surprised but pleased to see hundreds of Eugene listings on Airbnb. My friends could have much to choose from — everything from a campsite in a backyard ($20/night) to an entire unoccupied 6-bedroom house at $500/night. (No one chose that.)

I was surprised because — like many longtime residents — I didnt think there would be that much demand. Eugene wasnt All That, after all, not like Seattle or San Francisco.

That was before I realized how much Duck fever had transformed this <large small town> where I attended college 35 years ago. In those days the University of Oregon Ducks were a perennially losing team, the <Fighting Duck> was a joke, and college athletics were largely ignored by everyone I knew. (What is now the Duck Store, at the edge of campus, was called the University of Oregon Bookstore and sold books, not hundreds of varieties of green and yellow sportswear.)

An example of the wares that now fill the Duck Store, where I once shopped for books as a UO student in the 1980s.

Nowadays, it turns out that scads of parents, alumni, and others in town for a Ducks game keep many of the small-scale short-term rentals (a room in a house, a backyard cottage) full. They are listed on a host of platforms, including Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, and Booking.com.

On a more concerning level, STRs have become an industry. Entire multi-bedroom houses in Eugene are now being rented to groups of out-of-towners as STRs, with no owner on-site to supervise — a nationwide phenomenon. Hundreds of larger Eugene houses have been bought up by outside investors for use solely as STRs. A map prepared by City staff (page 4) shows that many are owned by the travel company Expedia, with a smattering owned by TripAdvisor and Priceline.

Expedia also owns the STR platforms HomeAway and VRBO, and has more recently acquired several platforms focused on short-term rental of apartments, a new market that its competitor Airbnb had already begun to exploit. According to an article on Skift,

In 2016, Airbnb began to coax multi-family housing owners into permitting their residents to rent out their places in exchange for a cut of the tenants’s rental revenue. By August 2018, the startup had signed up nearly 16,000 units worldwide to its Airbnb Friendly Buildings Program.

Expedia’s acquisition shows that its target market of properties is increasingly blurring with Airbnb’s…. In the early days, Airbnb focused on helping people to rent out their homes or apartments on a short-term basis, while HomeAway has emphasized whole home vacation rentals in resort destinations. In recent years, though, the companies have been targeting all aspects of the rental market. 

In a more enlightened, renter-friendly Eugene, these larger, now-investor-owned houses would make excellent co-living residences, especially if managed by a local company or nonprofit patterned after Community Room Rental of Charlotte, North Carolina, or PadSplit of Atlanta. These companies partner with homeowners to deliver rooms at rents affordable to local residents. PadSplit, in particular, has been called unique among co-living companies in focusing on creating housing affordable for low-income workers. Both companies are looking to expand to other communities; to our knowledge, no one in Eugene besides us has reached out to them.

City oversight of STRs has so far been limited to requiring owners to pay a Transient Room Tax; no licensing or permit is required (page 3). The proceeds of the tax, curiously enough, are designated to fund cultural services rather than affordable housing — yet another indication that City leaders do not understand the relationship between STRs and the depletion of our rental housing stock. City staff has even called the number of STRs <trivial> with regard to its possible impact on rents and amount of available housing. We disagree.

How many are there?

Table 1. Eugene Airbnb listings as of Nov. 1, 2019

Price per nightNumber of properties
0-$30/night45
$31-$50225
$51-$75276
$76-$100215
$101-$12590
$126-$15074
$151-$17528
$176+201
  TOTAL LISTINGS (between 1 and 6+ bedrooms each) 1,154

The above table records the Eugene listings on just one platform, Airbnb. (There are hundreds of Springfield listings on Airbnb as well.)

Other sites with entire-house/apartment Eugene listings include:

  • HomeAway and VRBO: 198 (presumably the same set of properties, as both platforms are now owned by Expedia)
  • TripAdvisor: 68
  • Booking.com: 11
    (At the Sept. 23 City Council work session, staff reported finding 823 Eugene listings on Booking.com, but we found just 47, of which only 11 were vacation homes or apartments; most were actual hotels or motels.)

How many are entire houses/apartments?

We saw no precise way to determine this using Airbnbs too-simple categories (selecting entire place yields a long list that includes hundreds of backyard cottages as well as hundreds of entire multi-bedroom houses), but a scan of listings at various price points suggested that at least a third of the 1,154 Eugene Airbnb listings are entire houses with no owner present. This estimate is likely too conservative; globally, entire-homes/apartments constitute 51% of Airbnb listings and 75% of its revenue.

Why is this a problem?

Eugene, and the entire West Coast, has a severe shortage of affordable housing. We need to create much more, but we also need to preserve the housing we have. The short-term rental industry has already removed thousands of bedrooms from the Eugene housing market and is poised to increase exponentially, especially given the much-anticipated World Track Championships in 2021.

What other cities have done

Many studies (NYC, Canada, Los Angeles) have shown that STRs lead to a rise in rents and reduce the number of affordable housing units. At least 32 jurisdictions in Oregon now regulate them, with Eugene now the largest municipality in the state to be asleep on the issue.

  • Ashland, Bend, Portland, and Salem (pages 7-10) have enacted regulations that were cited by City staff in their recommendations to Council
  • Santa Monica (2015)
    • Enacted rules that staff is reportedly using as another model.
  • San Francisco (2017)
    • Airbnb hosts must register with the city online.
  • New York (2018)
    • STR companies must provide the city with addresses for their listings, names + addresses of hosts, and whether rental is a room or an entire house. 
  • Los Angeles (2019)  
    • Hosts must register with the city and pay an $89 annual fee.
    • Hosts are limited to one listing only, and it must be their primary residence.
  • Seattle (2019)
    • Hosts are taxed $8-$14/night; proceeds fund affordable housing 💞 + the citys STR licensing program. [Currently, the Eugene transient-room tax funds cultural services. Affordable housing seems to us a more appropriate beneficiary.]

Upcoming City Council action: Dec. 11

This summer the Eugene City Council finally directed staff to look into regulation. Council held a work session on STRs on Sept. 23 and scheduled another on Dec. 11 at noon to consider a draft ordinance. According to the December South University Neighborhood newsletter and staff comments at the November Housing Policy Board meeting, the draft ordinance will include at least the following items:

  1. Yearly license fee.
  2. Owner-occupancy requirement — for instance, the homeowner must live on site at least 275 days/year.
  3. Limit on the number of days a unit can be rented — for instance, 90 days.
  4. Basis for license revocation, including number of complaints per calendar year.
  5. Requirement for STR platforms to maintain a registry and ensure that hosts have a business license + collect transient-room tax (TRT). Santa Monica and Portland already have such regulations. According to The New York Times, Seattle, San Francisco, and London all require STR platforms to share data through a registration system for listings. New York City is currently being sued by Airbnb and HomeAway over its approach.)
  6. Parking requirement.

There have been indications that Airbnb is organizing its hosts to lobby against regulation, and at least one Airbnb host is running for City Council (Kate Davidson in Ward 2, who gushed about the merits of Airbnb when interviewed by Eugene Weekly about her candidacy).

Concerned Eugene residents who back responsible regulation to protect Eugene from further exploitation by this burgeoning industry are encouraged to write letters to the editor (rgletters@registerguard.com (guidelines + deadline); letters@eugeneweekly.com (guidelines + deadline), cc your City Councilor, and testify for 3 minutes at the next City Council public forum on Mon., Dec. 9, a few days before the Council work session.

Signup to speak begins at 7pm, but arriving earlier to get in line is likely advisable if you want to speak early in the evening, as 350 Eugene members will be doing the same to testify on the Climate Action Plan. You may wish to connect your comments to climate action/sustainability — for instance, protecting our rental housing means workers will be able to afford to live in Eugene rather than have to commute from less-expensive areas, thus lessening our greenhouse gas emissions.

A final note

It seems important that Eugene coordinate STR policies with Springfield. If Eugene clamps down on STRs but Springfield does not, STR activity might simply move to Springfield, and have the same deleterious effects on that community.

Published by Sherri Schultz

Writer & change-maker exploring micro-dwelling in Eugene, Oregon. Founder of Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers: https://www.meetup.com/Micro-dwellers .

Join the Conversation

14 Comments

  1. Sherri,

    Excellent article. Whole-house short-term rentals are a plague. Eugene renters and resident home-owners need to understand that whole-house “AirBnBs” aren’t part of a “sharing economy”; they are part of a “predatory economy.” Expedia, Travelocity and large “commodity” real estate investment groups are scarfing up single-family homes for both STR and long-term rentals, both of which drive up rents and purchase prices.
    A couple important notes: The horrific House Bill 2001 passed by the Oregon Legislature last summer will through gas on the fire of STRs and “commodity” real estate investment. Read more about this issue at: https://trusttheneighbors.org/hb2001/
    Also, Eugene Code does actually regulate STRs, but the City staff unlawfully ignore that STRs (except conventional B&Bs) are not a permitted use in the R-1 Zone. However, when I file a legal challenge, the City attorney egregiously misrepresented the law and the DLCD staff “cooked” their report so that my petition was denied. It was just one more shameful example of how the City Manager, City Attorney, Planning & Development Director shamelessly flout the law to serve developer interests.

    Paul Conte

    Like

    1. We have different perspectives on HB2001, but I am glad we could come to agreement on this issue. In politics, I was taught, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Thanks for reading, and hope we will see some progress on this in a few weeks.

      Like

  2. I enjoyed your other posts on “microdwelling.” I was there long ago. Among other variations, I lived for two years in a treehouse that I built amongst three Shagbark Hickories, overlooking the Kentucky River on the highest hill in three counties. Access was by foot.
    To paraphrase Patrick Daniel Moynihan’s view on political debate: “‘Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” I would welcome new facts supporting HB 2001. I’ve sought supporting evidence from Tina Kotek (Oregon House Speaker), Julie Fahey (local House Rep who was a sponsor), and numerous other supporters. So far, I’ve received only assertions (e.g., “Law of Supply and Demand”) that are contrary to actual evidence and opinions (e.g., “Middle Housing won’t entirely solve the ‘affordable housing’ crisis, but every bit helps.”) that are also contradicted by evidence that the blanket upzoning of HB 2001 will actually worsen housing costs. I’m genuinely open to credible data or supported, expert analysis that would support the claims for HB 2001. Here or e-mail me at paul.t.conte(at)gmail.com. I can also share some pictures of the Bluegrass Treehouse. 🙂

    Like

    1. I think we would all enjoy seeing photos of the Treehouse. Perhaps you would like to drop by our social hour this Tuesday evening (Dec. 3) at Viking Braggot (2480 Willamette)? (And I dont suppose the Treehouse would meet Eugenes requirements for an ADU? I am sure there will be people there eager for possible models….)

      Our featured guest will be Dylan Lamar, a Eugene architect who just announced an innovative project in Springfield, designed to make small homes affordable for people making $20K-$35K. Dylan will probably touch on why he chose to locate in Springfield rather than Eugene. Unfortunately, this sort of project likely cannot happen here until our policies become more friendly to ADUs and other small-scale and innovative housing types.

      In January, our MicroDwellers group will be going on a walking tour of Missing Middle housing in what I believe is your neighborhood, which you would be welcome to attend (if you would like to come, let me know a few weekend dates that work for you). The Missing Middle forms were common housing types in my fathers day, when it was recognized that housing types at all income levels were needed. They still function as such today.

      We can discuss then in more detail why we and so many others feel this is needed — Eugenes failure to provide housing our residents can afford (chart at bit.ly/EugeneHousing ), not to mention sustainability goals — and discuss ways to avoid the sort of abuses that you fear.

      Like

      1. Regrettably, I won’t be in Eugene for your meeting.

        I don’t know how familiar you are with the S-JW Jefferson-Westside Special Area Zone or the history of the neighborhood’s refinement plans and zoning. Without creating a lengthy post, I’ll just point out that the S-JW zone was created through a broad public engagement process led by residents (homeowners and renters), not planners. The result was approved unanimously by the Eugene Planning Commission and City Council. (Recently, the local appeal related to ADUs was rejected with respect to S-JW and the similar S-C Chambers Special Area Zone.)

        S-JW was way ahead of the “YIMBY” movement and already allows all forms of housing types (even more than SB 10561 and HB 2001 list) at “medium-density” levels overall. Yet HB 2001 would effectively lead to removing one of the most important S-JW features: creation of new small lots, including ones with access only from the alleys.
        I’m not sure who is leading the tour of our neighborhood, but in the past, a local person has led such a tour and misrepresented the history and facts regarding our neighborhood and zoning. (Notably, “Middle Housing” is not “missing” in our neighborhood.) I would be happy to give you a tour, reflective of the neighborhood community’s work, that will provide a complete picture, including on-the-ground evidence of what happens when there’s a top-down, upzoning without involving the community versus the results of a robust, neighborhood led process that genuinely fulfills Oregon Statewide Planning Goal 1 — Citizen Involvement.
        BTW, the City chart you refer to is grossly misleading. For the true story, go to:
        https://trusttheneighbors.org/hb2001/
        and scroll down about 3/4 of the webpage to a chart that looks similar, but represents the actual “housing crisis” in Eugene is entirely among the “Extremely Low Income” (“ELI” and “Very Low Income” (“VLI”) households, which HB 2001 only make worse. Don’t take my word for it, become informed by reading: “The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes (2019)”
        by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. You’ll find the same chart for national housing data on page 2.
        Keep in mind that I always welcome additional data and credible research and analysis. Unfortunately, the reference you provided to the City staff chart is an example of data that, intentionally or not, is misleading about the nature of the actual “housing crisis.”

        Like

      2. We are encouraged to see some potential for agreement on the need for microhousing along the EmX line, one of our most passionate interests.

        We would back expanding the MUPTE all along the EmX line, though it would need to have far more stringent affordability requirements to produce housing affordable to the average Eugene *renter* (whose income is about half the AMI). Otherwise, MUPTE expansion would likely result in more $1,100/studio apartments like the upcoming Ferry Street Manor.

        Perhaps we will see you in Eugene in the new year — enjoy the holidays in Sunriver.

        Like

      3. Agree 100% on potential for the _proper_ use of MUPTE for housing affordable to lower-income households.

        You may not know that by threatening a ballot initiative to kill MUPTE altogether, I was the one who forced the City to include a “workforce” housing provision when the City Council renewed the MUPTE ordinance.
        However, Piercy and Ruiz sabotaged it for the Obie project by setting the “workforce” rent threshold for the downtown district too high. You may also not be aware that I promoted a proposal that the JWN board and members supported to develop the old Naval Reserve site on W. 13th Ave. as subsidized “family-friendly” and “multi-generational” housing. Eugene’s Planning Division staff has obstructed both projects.

        The JWN also led a successful “Opportunity Siting” (not to be confused with the Federal “Opportunity Areas” tax scam) workshop that identified numerous specific sites for higher-density residential development in the JWN, e.g., the old Post Office site on the NE corner of W. 8th Ave. and Almaden St. Staff killed that, too.

        Neither the JWN, nor other well-led neighborhood organizations, are the barriers to win-win solutions, it’s the planning staff and mayor’s cohort on City Council. (But the true story isn’t what you’ll hear from certain anti-neighborhood SJWs in Eugene.)

        As a positive counter-example to Eugene, track what San Diego’s Mayor Kevin Faulconer is doing to successfully address a much larger housing problem in San Diego …

        A Golden State Mayor Takes On the Nimbys
        As the cost of living spikes, Republican Kevin Faulconer wants to make housing affordable again without crushing current homeowners.
        By Mene Ukueberuwa
        Wall Street Journal Sept. 13, 2019
        https://trusttheneighbors.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/wsjarticlesan-diegomayorandhousing.pdf

        [NOTE: The WSJ headline writer mis-titled the article. Faulconer isn’t “taking on” NIMBYs or YIMBYs, as is clear in what the article’s author wrote.]

        “[Faulconer] firmly rejects one more idea catching on among Yimby activists: rezoning neighborhoods through state legislation. ‘Cities need to act aggressively to hit their housing goals—that’s what I’m doing,’ he says. ‘But I think you want to ensure that you have local control, so you’re designing the housing that best fits your needs.’ Unlike fellow mayors in San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose, he opposes California’s Senate Bill 50, which would mandate higher density in neighborhoods statewide within half a mile of a commuter-train or bus station.”
        Unlike Eugene’s Mayor, Faulconer has the correct focus, his strategy is to “encourage developers to ‘build the housing where it should be: along transit corridors, close to job centers.'” Not a word about piddling around with ADUs and “Middle Housing” which can’t possibly scale up to the numbers needed.
        Faulconer understands that “his opposition to coercive methods of lowering prices puts him at odds with progressive Yimby activists.” However, he counters with complimentary strategies, based on consensus and “spot-by-spot plans.” Faulconer states: “We build consensus by getting the community plans developed. But then, damn it, let’s make it easier to build it! Let’s actually go!” Mayor Faulconer’s proposed new plans for the Pacific Beach and Clairemont regions, which would add 9,000 homes within two years, passed unanimously.

        Like

  3. Sherri, I appreciated reading your article here. I’m very concerned about the mis-information being propagated by big developers and the hotel industry that large corporations are invading Eugene, buying up all the available homes, and turning them into STR’s. This is utter nonsense. The data you use isn’t accurate. It’s simply being thrown around, and people believe it, because it keeps getting repeated. This is how misinformation campaigns work. You’ve fallen for one. In any event, Eugene could very easily create regulations to keep giant corporations from dominating the market, or out of it altogether, and I think we should. I don’t know if you read it, but I thought you might be interested in an Op-ed I wrote, published in the RG a couple of weeks ago. https://www.registerguard.com/opinion/20191126/guest-view-short-term-rentals-hot-topic-in-eugene
    By the way, the article in the EW wasn’t all that flattering of me – I see you caught that. I’m not running for City Council on a pro-STR platform. I believe we need rational regulation of that market. I too believe the TRTs should go toward affordable housing programs and homeless shelters. I think my Guest View states it pretty well. I’m happy to meet and speak with you anytime. There are many other issues I hold dear that I’ll address/collaborate on when I get to City Council. Thanks for all the great work you do. It’s very inspiring.

    Like

    1. Kate, thanks for reading. This post was written as a response to your Register-Guard op-ed. The data in it is my original research, not misinformation that I have fallen for.

      Eugene has the most unhoused people per capita in the nation for a reason: For years, the City Council (1) has made policy decisions that block or discourage a wide range of lower-cost housing types and (2) as on this issue, has failed to enact policies to protect the housing stock we have. It has allowed the unchecked proliferation of entire-house STRs, while more than two dozen other Oregon towns regulated them. Why was Eugene asleep at the wheel until now? We are the second-largest city in the state, and need leaders with skills, experience, and knowledge that are equal to the task.

      After decades of homeowner protectionism, it is time for the Councils priorities to reflect the needs of renters, who are half of its constituents, but whose plight is seldom even mentioned. We have a right to live here, and not on the street, and not paying half or more of our incomes for rent. The entire focus of my work here is to create more affordable rental housing for what is in fact a very low-income community: A third of Eugenes residents make $25K or less. This fact needs to be reflected on the Council and in its priorities. We shouldnt be granting tax breaks to $1,100/month apartments that the average renter cant afford, while 2,100 people go unsheltered every night.

      I am glad we agree that the TRT should fund affordable housing, as it does in most other cities, since every STR represents a further depletion of the rental stock available to our residents, and needs to be understood and portrayed as such. A truly kind city, faced with a housing emergency, would have long ago urged its residents to rent their empty rooms to fellow residents rather than to tourists, and perhaps even to incentivize that.

      Like

      1. I agree with every word of Sherri’s post here. Where she and have different views (which I hope will coalesce) is how to address the serious problem of “housing-cost burdened” households. (This is one part of the housing crisis, homelessness is a related, but not identical problem.)

        Sherri references the $25,000 household income threshold. It’s essential to understand that almost 100% of truly “housing-cost burdened” households make less than this threshold.

        So, if we want to make a real difference, we need policies, practices and public investment in subsidized housing, period! The housing market in Eugene simply cannot or will not deliver housing that’s affordable to these households.

        It’s fine to suggest housing forms (“micro-housing”, so-called “middle housing,” etc.) and uses (room rentals in private homes, “Single-Room Occupancy, etc.) that could be delivered at a lower cost than conventional single-family dwellings. But there is simply no evidence anywhere that the market will deliver these forms of housing, even in zones that allow these forms and uses. Instead, the evidence uniformly demonstrates that a simplistic, blanket upzoning of all single-family neighborhoods leads to higher rents, as well as higher prices of purchased dwellings. Further, upzoning and leaving what gets built to market forces causes displacement in neighborhoods of color and poorer neighborhoods.

        There’s value in a coordinated program that includes targeted zoning amendments, focus on scaled housing solutions near transit stations (e.g., EmX on W. 6th & 7th Aves.) and subsidies (e.g., MUPTE) for various types and costs of housing.)

        But “build-baby-build” — i.e., HB 2001 — is a sham that large investment funds and developers have foisted on folks who haven’t taken the time to learn the evidence and research.

        Like

      2. The Eugene housing market actually has and is delivering housing at these levels, as I will illustrate in a later, currently half-finished post. Thanks for the extra impetus to finish it, and happy to see some points of agreement here.

        Like

    2. The statistics nationally are well-established, and Eugene is not going to somehow buck the trend if the City planners and attorney continue to (falsely) claim STRs are “not regulated.” The City has no good statistics only because the incompetent staff has let Airbnb, Inc., Homeaway, etc. get way with no detailed reporting. Finally, unless the City Council acts prudently, House Bill 2001 will greatly increase the potential ROI for investors to convert low-cost single-family homes to plexes for both long- and short-term rentals.
      That said, there’s a very simple way for Ward 2 voters to understand where Ms. Davidson really stands on converting single-family homes to short-term-rentals — Would she support a simple solution that simply applies the existing R-1 zoning criteria for “Bed & Breakfast Facility” to all forms of short-term rentals (with the option to either serve a breakfast or not)?

      Ward 2 voters also might want to talk to other “Southeast Neighbors” Executive Board members to get their opinions on Ms. Davidson’s recent actions regarding her use of the SEN e-mail list for promoting her views on short-term rentals, of which she is an owner.

      From my long experience, I can confidently state that current Councilor Betty Taylor has been a superb, consistent and transparent supporter of neighborhoods in Ward 2 and across the City. If Councilor Taylor doesn’t run, Ward 2 voters should give serious consideration to Matt Keating who is also running for that councilor position.

      Paul Conte

      Like

      1. Councilor Taylor has led the Council in opposing all forms of naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH; that is, not publicly subsidized), in ways I will demonstrate in a later post. We are most definitely not fans.

        Now that Mr. Conte has put his stamp of approval on the other Ward 2 candidate, Matt Keating, we are really in a pickle. Fortunately, we have a few more months to sort this out before the May primary.

        Like

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: