Pros and cons of short-term rentals weighed at Packwood meeting

By Isabel Vander Stoep / [email protected]

What could have been a heated debate turned into a productive conversation about the pros and cons of Packwood’s booming short-term rental (STR) market Thursday night, according to STR owner Ryan Southard.

As Lewis County works to address housing issues in the area, Senior Long Range Planner Mindy Brooks is leading a sub-area plan for Packwood that will guide policy in the area for 20 years after its inception . It is expected to be completed in about a year, which Brooks says is the shortest time she has set for a planning project in her career.

The plan is being guided by a Community Advisory Committee, which is made up of locals representing Packwood’s various stakeholders, including Southard. This committee’s workshops are guided by feedback from the public hearings.

Thursday evening, the public was invited to intervene on the subject of DOS.

Lewis County’s easternmost community in recent years has seen a huge increase in tourism. In 2019, the Packwood Visitor’s Center welcomed less than 2,000 guests while in 2021 it had welcomed nearly 6,000 by October. This means profit for landlords who can rent out their accommodations to guests. This can be done through Airbnb, VRBO, some real estate companies, and with direct communication with landlord tenants.

Because STR owners do not have to obtain a Lewis County business license, the county does not have an exact rental total. According to assessor Dianne Dorey, the data should arrive from a consulting firm sometime in March. AirDNA, a website that collects lodging data, listed 204 active rentals in the Packwood area this week.

Southard, who owns four STRs in Packwood and is a full-time resident, typically has between 200 and 230 STRs “if I get the map around Packwood the way most people understand it,” he said.

Some residents have issues with the fact that Lewis County has little to no regulation in place on STRs. There have also been claims, at Thursday’s meeting and in previous forums, that STRs are eating up available housing stock in Packwood, contributing to huge property cost hikes and discouraging landlords from offering long term rentals.

A Thursday forum participant pinpointed the problem, saying that the STR market “wrongly allocates space that should go to residents and potential new residents.”

Southard acknowledged that there is a crisis with the lack of affordable housing. He also listed issues with STRs that need to be addressed for the benefit of the community, as residents of Thursday’s forum did.

But, Southard said, “This idea that if you close all short-term rentals tomorrow, all of our homes will become long-term rentals, that there would be this bumper crop of affordable housing, that’s just wishful thinking. .”

Southard and his wife Valerie Neng worked for 22 years developing affordable housing in New York and Seattle before moving to Packwood. He said they spent a lot of time thinking about the problem in the area and finding ways to solve it. However, getting rid of STRs, he said, is about more than a high stock of affordable units. Instead, he said those vacation rentals would remain “mothballed, effectively” for most of the year while out-of-town owners lived elsewhere full-time.

An STR pro who came forward on Thursday linked to Southard’s sentiment, when it was said that STRs ‘prevent vacant vacation homes that attract crime’. Similarly, another resident said, “eyes in the street equals less crime.”

Other positives expressed at the meeting were the local employment provided by the STR market, including janitorial and landscaping jobs, an influx of customers supporting local businesses, and the fact that STRs make nearby national and state parks more accessible.

” It’s an advantage. I think STRs are necessary so people of diverse backgrounds from other parts of the state can access state and national parks that everyone should be able to enjoy,” said one attendee.

The disadvantages listed, besides those related to the effect on the housing stock, were mainly related to the negative consequences on the community atmosphere of the mountain town, where the elk in the backyards are as new as the pigeons near the mountain. ‘a bus stop.

These negatives included disconnected guests, including late night revelers, hostility due to the division of the STR debate, not knowing the neighbors, a lack of infrastructure in Packwood to support the number of visitors and that there are apparently fewer volunteers to operate senior centers, fire departments and other services.

“We don’t have enough people here seven days a week to do these things because we have people here who live in the accommodations that we assign to short-term rentals who were previously seven-day-a-week tenants who participated . We therefore operate with few resources. So most of us who volunteer volunteer in three or four of these activities, just trying to make it work,” said one resident.

Neng and Southard challenged the idea that STR regulations equate to more “renters seven days a week” who can fill volunteer positions.

Southard said there are currently large numbers of people in Portland and Seattle buying vacation homes and spending time in places like Packwood. Whether or not the county regulates STRs, he said, those people will continue to buy those homes. And long-term renting involves a level of risk — which has been amplified by arguments against Washington’s eviction moratorium put in place during the pandemic — that landowners are simply no longer willing to take on. In addition, short-term rental is much more profitable. AirDNA estimates the average daily rate for a stay at Packwood to be $229.

While saying he didn’t want to speak on behalf of the entire Packwood STR ownership community, Southard said he thought most would be in favor of reasonable Lewis County regulation. He also has ideas for moving forward, such as possibly creating a housing trust from lodging tax money. Neng also addressed community issues, saying she would be interested in having the owners of Packwood STR employ some sort of community safety officer to investigate customer complaints.

“We really see ourselves as members of the community who are ready to partner together to create solutions, and we just want to work together because we see affordable housing as an issue,” Neng said. “We have a problem growing our business, growing our business. We can’t just hire people because they don’t have a place to live. We see it as a problem and we want to work together to find a solution.

To give input:

• The Housing Forum Series is open to the public. The meetings will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a location to be determined on the following themes/days:

Affordable Housing: March 24

Zoning: April 21

• Email Lewis County Senior Long Range Planner Mindy Brooks at [email protected]

• Take surveys or read more material on https://bit.ly/3ufKshd

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