A scapegoat for every state housing issue

It is a myth that short-term rentals are causing Vermont’s housing crisis, and housing studies across the state tend to dispel this accusation

Lisa Ford has operated a vacation rental in Guilford for 11 years. In 2019, she organized a statewide Short Term Rental Summit; the first of its kind, it led to the creation of the Vermont Short-Term Rental Alliance, a member-based nonprofit association for vacation rental managers and short-term rental hosts operating in the state.

GUILFORD-Short-term rental owners are not the evil housing tycoons we are sometimes made out to be. Vacation rentals peppered around our state make up just 2.5% of our housing stock yet contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to our state budget in the form of rooms/meals taxes and consumer spending.

I've lived in Guilford for 30 years and have operated a small vacation rental on my property for the past 11 years, serving thousands of guests who graciously support our local economy. They are consistent customers in our restaurants, cafés, country stores, theaters, shops, and galleries. I cater to couples and solo travelers of all genders, races, and age. I've hosted honeymooners, engagements, elopers, and writers.

I consider myself a tourism ambassador for southern Vermont, and it's the best job I've ever had.

I'm personally not interested in turning my property into a long-term rental. I prefer working in Vermont's thriving hospitality industry, which caters to the millions of tourists we rely on to keep our downtown businesses open. I hire local contractors and provide guests with Vermont made products.

I'm proud knowing my small business contributes to the economic vitality of my community.

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It is a myth that short-term rentals are causing Vermont's housing crisis, and housing studies across the state tend to dispel this accusation.

The 2021 Brattleboro Housing Action Plan by Camoin Associates states that "short term rentals are not impacting the housing market significantly" and STR's comprise only 2% of this community's housing stock.

According to the town housing data report appended to the plan, a more important factor impacting housing is that 85.9% of nonfamily households (a householder living alone or with unrelated people) in Brattleboro are being lived in by only one person. This demonstrates a real lack of viable options for our growing aging population.

This is a common theme statewide. Vermont's own housing assessment, completed by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency in 2020, again shows that short-term rentals make up a very small segment of lodging, while 69% of Vermont's households are lived in by one or two people.

Another major finding in both studies is the lack of housing development for middle-income earners.

Additionally, Vermont's housing data shows clusters of short-term rentals near major ski areas, which makes sense. These accommodations have been offered for rent by their out-of-state owners for decades and will most likely never join the long-term housing market, as many people wish they would.

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Vermont needs different types of lodging for the different types of people and families visiting our recreational landscape. Vermont also needs the revenue generated from lodging to pay for programs such as education and affordable housing.

Tourism in Vermont is a $3 billion industry that supports more than 30,000 jobs, accounting for over 10% of Vermont's workforce. Short-term rentals alone contributed $54 million in meals and rooms taxes (25% of which goes directly to the state's Education Fund).

According to the Vermont Short-Term Rental Alliance, guests at short-term rentals contribute $650 million in annual visitor spending per year.

Unfortunately, our legislators recently passed a 25% increase on the rooms and meals tax specifically on short-term rentals. This surtax aims to hurt owners of these properties, 50% of which are full-time Vermonters, who rely them as a source of supplemental income to pay for rising property taxes and maintenance on their own homes.

This policy will not move the needle on housing in Vermont, but instead will increase vacation rental rates and reduce the number of tourists visiting the shops and restaurants in our downtowns.

In their zeal to "raise revenue" by taxing tourists, will our state Legislature instead shrink our economy and stifle investment in new housing?

It seems obvious to me that growing tourism - and not over-taxing tourists - is the key to increasing revenue to support state spending.

This can happen if legislators start supporting policies that make Vermont more appealing and accessible to visitors and stop using short-term rentals as a scapegoat for every housing issue under the sun.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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