Desperate for Housing Options, Communities Turn to Ballot Initiatives

Nov 01, 2021 · 107 comments
Bill (FL)
I have a 29-year-old niece who is extremely bright and after college received good job offers from major companies. She is not a software engineer but she has a particular knack for applying software solutions in practical work situations; however, she also has an aversion to big companies and big cities. She prefers to live the outdoors life, so she and her boyfriend (who still aspires in the face of continuing failure to become a TikTok influencer) have been living in sketchy and increasingly unaffordable housing in various western US ski areas. When priced out of a series of rural residential markets, and a torn ACL highlighted the importance of medical benefits, my niece finally took a full-time job as an office manager where she is over-qualified and poorly paid, but receives some fringe benefits and still has ample time on weekends and during vacations for skiing and hiking. My niece and her boyfriend and many of their friends have made a conscious decision to avoid the big-company rat race. Perhaps the growing problem of affordable housing in rural areas will push her and others to re-think the outdoor life. Certainly if she ever decides to have children she will need to think about finding a job that offers not only benefits but enough income to afford living in an area with good schools.
MB (San Francisco, CA)
Yes . . . Air B&B needs to go. I looked at the Air B&B listings for actual homes/condos/apartments in the town I live in. The number of listings of the Air B&Bs that were "homes", not just the single rooms/back bedrooms, guest cottages, came to over 30% of the housing stock. You can do the exercise yourself for your town.
bogdan (Madrid)
Here's a novel thought: stop moving to Colorado! It is idiotic to me that the same types of people keep choosing the same exact places. It is a vast country and yet the same five - ten cities keep attracting yupsters. If you can work remotely, why not choose a place like Youngstown OH where you could permanently own a home two years time instead of fast becoming a NIMY and complaining about the price gauging your contributed to? You aren't cool or unique choosing Nashville, Portland, Denver or Austin. Plus, all the people choosing Western states - what do you think is going to happen to all that timber in future years, the fast depleting river streams and aquifers? I really think we as a nation need to start accurately pricing real estate / insurance to build in the risk of climate change. The construction costs should incorporate this risk up front. If you want to build in Miami on the waterfront in a pancake flat state, you should pay for that irresponsibility. Those in the crosshairs of wildfires should see their insurance rates rise to appropriate levels. Call it right-pricing / right-sizing development, and if the Great Lakes region benefits, so be it. For so long Sun Belt and Western growth has been subsidized, at the expense of the "Rust Belt" where By Right states with no / a weak legacy of unions have happily poached companies and jobs from those which do.
Dave (Denver)
I lived in Leadville in the mid to late 1970s. At that time there was a large apartment complex that, as I recall, had been moved to Leadville from Climax by AMAX Mining. When I moved there from working in the uranium mines in New Mexico, broke, I was told at the unemployment office to apply at Climax mining and when given my job, return for a month of food stamps and to go to the apartment complex and show proof of employment and they would spot me a month rent, which they did. I lived in four rented single family homes during my time there. Rent was very expensive, at least half my wages each month and three of the houses were sold so I had to move. Sounds about the same today. Back in the 1980s, after mining died out, you could buy a house off Main Street for around the price of a new car. Maybe Leadville city, or Lake county could float a bond to build a very large apartment complex with affordable apartments and do a bit of that which worked for me. Best of luck to the town and I hope the Golden Burro has a better cook than I recall. Gladys.
“No matter how much money policymakers spend on subsidizing housing, the fundamental problem of not having enough houses for the number of people who live in a region, or would like to live in a region can’t be addressed without allowing more to be built,” said Emily Hamilton, the director of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Bingo! Everything else is just noise.
Ron T. (Colorado)
When I lived in Summit County, Colorado 30+ years ago, Leadville was one of the far outlying communities where the worker bees rented, because it was affordable. Some of the blame for the change falls on the Leadville town governments and Chambers of Commerce of the past, with their incessant efforts to bring in more and more tourists. Guess what? The tourists came, then the 2nd home owners came, followed by the sleaze who buy up existing housing and turn it into short-term rental income properties. The Summit County I fell in love with decades ago has forever changed, too, as it became a year-round tourist destination. It is time to tax '2nd home' properties and short-term rentals to the hilt, and use those monies for affordable housing! A possible side benefit might be that the tax load just might trigger some owners to relinquish their prized trophies and return them to the local market.
E.A. Barrera (San Francisco)
The problem is not low supply. The problem is affordability. The key to genuine affordable housing is public financing of development and government controls of pricing. The market simply does not work in lowering the cost of housing, as there is always someone willing to pay more than market value, and once that happens, all homes sky-rocket in price. In California, developers have been contributing to politicians campaign coffers and using their well-paid public relations/advertising personnel to try and sell people on the concept that if only they are allowed to build more ... and eliminate all zoning and government regulations regarding housing developments ... that the "free-market" will "naturally" bring down costs as more supply is available. But not once ... not a single example ... can be provide where that happened in any significant way. So in effect, developers and real estate industry corporations manipulate the public's concerns over affordable housing and homelessness to make a fortune while politicians claim credit for housing legislation, and in the end, not a single person who needs housing is any closer to being able to afford it.
A (Richmond)
Are anyone's property taxes going down? Thought so. As these taxes increase and insurance costs increase rents are only going to go up and up and up. And those people who quit paying rent in 2020 and could - well, actions have consequences. Many small landlords are trying to claw some of that money back by increasing rents.
Peter (New York)
People refuse to understand markets. More taxes and regulations don’t work and then when they situation gets worse, people claim we just need to double down. Let markets build more housing!!
Beth (Nederland, CO)
Where do you suggest we build more housing? Who will pay for the infrastructure to support those new housing developments (water, sewage, utilities, roads, etc.)? Where will the people who build this housing live while they are building it? Have you ever been to Leadville?
Alex (Limbo)
The free market doesn’t work.
Michael (Central Texas)
The religion of the markets is blind to fact that there is much more money in building a third home for a rich person than to build a home for a poor person. now we have a situation where the wealthy have multiple homes while criminalizing homelessness.
hen3ry (Westchester, NY)
There hasn't been enough decent affordable housing built in my area for decades. Renting is expensive and so is owning a home. Families cannot possibly survive on one income unless that person makes at least 6 figures and that goes for some of the rentals too. It's not quite as bad as it is in California but it's getting there. Now there are fees to have an application looked at. Add to that the other fees like first month's rent, last month's rent, security deposit, paying the broker fee. It adds up quickly. The fees to buy a house add up. I wonder how the villages and towns expect to attract and keep a variety of people when every housing choice is either unaffordable or not decent enough to live in. It's not a case of people wanting to live over their means; it's a case of housing being way too expensive. I think we'd better begin saving cardboard boxes for ourselves. If we lose our jobs, retire, or can't find new jobs or the rent is raised too much we'll have no place to go. At least cardboard boxes provide some protection.
Max (Westchester)
I don't know anything about housing policy. But I suspect that taxes aren't the answer to our affordable housing shortage.
Iman Onymous (Here, Outside Your Galaxy)
It's interesting that on the front page of the NY Times the leading article is "Climate Change Is ‘Ravaging the World,’ Biden Tells [COP26] Summit", and then there's this article that describes in detail the problems Leadville Colorado is having in producing enough housing for tourists and to attract and shelter workers in the tourist industry. In the big picture, the problem here is not housing in Leadville. In terms of climate, Leadville is not what most people would call a sustainably habitable place. To transport tourists to this area and house them and the necessary workers requires massive inputs of fossil fuels. Because of its elevation of 10,000 feet AMSL and paucity of fertile soil, not much grows there except for the trees, grasses and lichen that have adapted to live in the harsh conditions of that setting. The growing season is short, and winters are long and cold. It is an unnatural place for humans, and living there or in other 'artificial' locations (e.g. tourist traps like Vail, Aspen, Telluride etc.) is not sustainable on a planet that we already KNOW we are under the gun to save. For humans to visit or inhabit these cold, rocky high altitude places requires a big thermodynamic input which is achieved through burning fossil carbon. This can only bring us closer the day when global warming becomes intolerable. Much of our current lifestyle is not sustainable, and I wish the NY Times would acknowledge the linkages between these sorts of issues.
Beth (Nederland, CO)
As someone who lives happily and sustainably at 8600 feet in Colorado, I beg to differ.
Iman Onymous (Here, Outside Your Galaxy)
@Beth I'm sure you're very happy living in Nederland, but I'm equally sure your life there isn't sustainable over the long term. How did you first get to Nederland? Did you walk up Boulder canyon to get there? How about food? Do you grow enough to get you through from September harvest to the next year's September harvest? Or do you drive down to King Soopers in Boulder, pick up some groceries and drive back up to Nederland? Have you ever contemplated what that trip would be like without access to fossil fuels? That is, if there was even a King Soopers to go to. I've spent plenty of time in Nederland to know that nothing about life there is sustainable over the long haul. And if we have to cut our use of fossil fuels to near zero, it seems to me that when the climate/social situation reaches steady state, Cheyenne, Ft. Collins, Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo won't be sustainable places for large numbers of people to live over the long haul either. It's too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, and too dry year-round. In fact, that entire area is already running out of water. Leadville or any other place above 5,000 feet elevation? Forget it. No way.
maria m. (Washington state)
US corporations are buying up real estate as investments. And US real estate is a favorite of foreign investors as well. For example, there is Home Partners of America, which buys houses and then rents them as “rent to own.” They were recently bought by Blackstone. Here in the Seattle area with so much tech income, foreign investors from Canada and Asian countries are active in the housing market. This won’t end until Congress takes action.
AKJersey (New Jersey)
The US has plenty of cheap housing stock. The problem is that most of it is located where there are few jobs. So national and state policy should be two-fold: Create more housing where housing is very expensive. But also, create more jobs where housing is cheap but jobs are in short supply.
bogdan (Madrid)
@AKJersey Bingo. Plus it will go a long ways towards blunting the rural / urban, shiny / rust belt dynamic that is more frequently spilling into violence. I don't even believe it's a Republican / Split so long as resentment that the rich (areas) keeping richer and the poor (areas) keep getting poorer. I guarantee you locate some good paying jobs in Central Michigan and it flips purple overnight and eventually blue.
Donna Gray (Louisa, Va)
New 3/4 bedroom manufactured houses are sold in central Virginia for well under $100,000, by firms such as Clayton Homes. So how much would it cost to trailer them to Colorado? That suggests the problem is housing, but the lack of vacant land to site these homes. But surely there must be some under used municipal land in Leadville or nearby towns, right? We aren't talking about Manhattan or Beverly Hills.
J (New Orleans)
Climate change of course is our biggest threat, hands down. But up there in the top ten is affordable housing and the major threat of the company known for destroying neighborhoods, Airbnb. This company takes much inventory off the market causing locals to not be able to live in their own community, it causes housing prices and rents to skyrocket (less inventory, higher prices) and it degrades neighborhoods and communities by putting constant strangers and party-going folks into these relatively quiet neighborhoods. States and cities should ban, not curb Airbnb or place extremely restricted laws in place and ENFORCE THEM. Right now, that is not happening (and local elected officials are to blame for doing nothing about this). I vote for a ban, they have proven themselves to be irresponsible over and over. Now people will say "I can do whatever I want with my home". NO, you can't, there are community laws and standards that are to be upheld. Too many of these places are owned by people not living in the community and could care less. But why should these places even exist in a residential community, hotels cannot and Airbnb is basically a hotel. Which brings up the next major point. A livable wage and end to the stagnation of salaries. People should have just one job, not 2 or 3 and use their homes and cars to make ends meet. We also have plenty of hotels as it is, some are used for the homeless (which is another issue not properly addressed). Airbnb is just plain BAD.
Jeff (USA)
I get that communities want to try to solve these problems, but I think this affordable housing problem that we are seeing play out in communities across the country is much bigger and much deeper than any individual city's zoning. While cities like Bozeman and Leadville, etc. etc., are becoming unattainable for the working class, there are huge parts of the country, like former rust belt areas, where housing is cheap and people are desperately needed to avoid economic collapse. Presenting this problem as a widespread affordable housing shortage is disingenuous. What is really happening is that upper middle class people and above are relocating to, and buying second properties in "America's 100 trendiest cities" -- Bozeman and Boulder and Leadville included. It's a problem of concentration of wealth and jobs. It causes housing costs to spike in some communities while other communities get further depressed.
TK Sung (SF)
I have no idea why people use AirBnB. Most of so called "hosts" are NOT "friends or neighbors" lending a spare bedrooms for spare income. They are professional amateurs making living with AirBnB. Yet, AirBnB is still running this scam of "staying with friends" and let people review each other leading to inflated ratings and impression that everything is rosey. One that I stayed with in Astoria, my first and last in the US, had a dozen apartments converted into slum hostel rooms that provided no heat/extra blanket when temp dropped 10F and charged $33 to change the bed sheets after 3 days. You add up all expenses and amenities, hotels/motels are often cheaper. And they know how to run hospitality. As much as I advocate free market, I wouldn't shed a tear if AirBnB is banned from eveywhere to free up housing.
Miss Anne Thrope (Utah)
I moved to Crested Butte when a fixer-upper duplex cost $118k, dogs napped in the streets and junk pickups were stored on back lots. Perfect! Exactly what we wanted - hike, bike, backpack, ski, smoke dope, pay the bills by stitching a quilt of seasonal jobs. Then CB got "discovered" and, overnight, became Crested Cute. When we realized our neighborhood no longer held neighbors but, instead, was a bunch of short-termed party houses and empty 2nd homes for the Nouveau's, we cashed out and moved on. Every Last Best Place faces this problem - Essential Workers don't earn enough to compete with out-of-towners looking for places to stash windfall stock market profits and annual bonuses. Seems like everyone's solution is to try to create "affordable" housing in hot resorts which, as this article notes, is a heavy haul. Maybe the solution is not just to try to lower housing cost, but also to pay workers more? To address the US' profound income inequality? Maybe the solution is to level the playing field, to do what the (hapless) D's want and increase worker's incomes, provide affordable (free) health care, child care, college… Wealth Inequality was turbo-charged in '81 with (R)eagan's "Voodoo economics", Trickle-Up tax "reform" that transferred wealth from workers to plutocrats and corporations. It was made worse by more of the same from (R) presidents, Bush II and Former Guy. A return to pre-(R)eagan tax rates would solve a lot of our societal problems. Vote (D)!
Aimlowjoe (New York)
This might have something to do with the inflation in housing prices: More money chasing a finite.
Deb (Blue Ridge Mtns.)
The community where I live is being overtaken by STRs. I live next to one of them, and it has been the bane of my existence since. It is owned by an out of state operator who has quite a few STRs in three states. The house was already in decent repair, it's a medium size 4BR/3.5 BA, on a septic system permitted for maximum occupancy of six. I've seen as many as sixteen people there at one time, along with their six vehicles. These operators come in, put some lipstick on the house, furnish it on the cheap, fill it with beds and pack as many people in as they can. The renters then split the fees, making them cheaper than hotel/motels. Because they are not managed or supervised, as a hotel/motel, the noise, partying, traffic and trash, petty thefts and trespassing go unhindered. The residents here are fed up and are in the process of mounting a force to rid ourselves of these interloping infringers of our rights to enjoy the safety, privacy, security and value of our homes. They are about as welcome as fleas and procreate like them. Best advice - don't let them in.
Lake Monster (Lake Tahoe)
The City of South Lake Tahoe has essentially banned VHR's outside of Tourist zoning areas. We have lost 7,000 out of 8,500 single family vacation rentals in the city and the associated millions of dollars in taxes. Guess what? It has made ZERO difference in the long term rental stock. Nobody can afford to rent here, let alone buy, that's a joke. Ban VHR's all you want, do it for neighborhood integrity, but don't fool yourself, it will not solve the housing supply issue. The traveling public has made their lodging choices clear, and they want to stay in houses, not hotels. The bartenders and waitresses that are supposed to benefit from VHR bans may eventually lose their jobs because travelers will go where they can rent homes, in neighborhoods.
Flint Hasset (Brooklyn, NY)
What seems to be unaddressed is the actual higher demand. While conversion of units to short-term rentals obviously limits long-term supply, there's clearly also a need for short-term rentals as well, unless the argument is that no one should be allowed to visit these areas. Given the percentage of these economies driven by tourism, I suspect that isn't the argument being made. We are discussing demand for short-term rentals as if it is illegitimate. Its merely another component of total housing demand. I would hazard the solution is adding units, not telling a significant slice of the economy not to show up. Are any of the politicians pushing short-term bans comfortable saying out loud that they want to shrink the tourism economy as well?
Phil (Spencertown, NY)
@Flint Hasset An individual municipality is fully within its rights to limit or actually ban specific uses within its borders. When this option is exercised, one hopes that the ramifications have been aired in public hearings before enactment. If a community arranges its laws to make uses like short-term rentals difficult, it simply has broadcast to those outside the community that the wider public is free to find an Airbnb in another location, thank you very much, because we prefer not to have them. (Of course, already-existing STRs should be grandfathered by the ordinance.)
Keith (Merced)
I'd tax the short term rentals not hotels with the hope people will chose to stay in hotels instead of renting property that could and should be available to local residents.
Cara (Denver)
Leadville is a designated opportunity zone, no wonder investors are coming in, buying up properties and turning them into airbnb.
Just Curious (Oregon)
Another driver of inflating property prices that is associated with short term rentals, is the current snapping up of properties by big investor organizations, often sight-unseen. Whether they convert owner occupied homes to short term rentals or long term rentals, the end result is the same; spiraling housing costs and a decline in owner-occupied homes, which is the foundation of a strong, stable middle class. In typical American fashion, we are waiting to deal with this crisis until it’s close to unsolvable. So in addition to regulating short term rentals, we need a mechanism to put the brakes on vulture style investments acquiring housing stock.
Julie (Portland)
@Just Curious Excellent post and I've been saying the same thing since Obama bailed out banks, insurance companies and auto industry which put millions of people out on the streets as they could not pay for their over priced house. Really remind of that when I got my property tax statement from Multnomah County. I woner what kind of tool the politicians gave this billionaire to hide his housing properties so he doesn't pay any property taxes. I have a 2 bed 1 bath home and got a bill for $4,346 and I am 75 years old without a job now because of the pandemic.
Steven Hether (Mesa, Arizona)
Cannot afford to take my family skiing for years because of lift ticket prices and all the other costs related to dynamic pricing. Same for football and baseball games and vacations. I could not afford a home in todays market. I bought in 1987. Houses in my area are selling for $600K plus. That is insane. Then after the sale you see them listed for rent. Constant calls from investors asking if I want to sell. Constant radio ads from investors wanting to buy. The homeless camp a few miles away gets bigger and bigger, there are families in those camps with parents working but still cannot afford a place to live. There is a lot of money out there but it is not in the average Americans pocket. With the way things are going, it will just get worst.
HAP (Palm Springs)
Here is Palm Springs, where vacation rental homes have increased by 26% over three years, entire neighborhoods have been destroyed. Streets have 15 or 20 vacation homes in a row, with full-time residents surrounded on all sides by party houses. Don't let this happen to your town.
EB (San Diego, CA)
@HAP Here in San Diego, Mission Beach got so full of short term rentals that it lost its elementary school. Ours is hanging on - we still have a cohesive community - but it's a real battle to keep it.
Patricia (Virginia)
Part of the problem is what is being built. Most of the new housing I see is high rise, expensive apartments and condos. Or large estate homes and expansive townhouses built for the young and wealthy. There are few small, single family houses or well constructed, community housing. I would LOVE to buy a newer, small, one floor home. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find these? Everything seems to include huge spaces and multiple floors. We need homes for older people (like me) to downsize into and for young couples starting out. There are many of us who don’t want a house we can afford and meets our needs. New neighborhoods need to be diversified. A mix of sizes and prices. More options, please!
Ben (NJ)
Why is there a need for any special tax or law . Why doesn't Marcee Lundeen raise the prices in her restaurant enough to pay her her workers and their high cost of housing ? Doesn't it happen in expensive cities like NYC all the time ?
Linn (Moab, UT)
In many resort towns in the West there is NO housing to be had. Period.
SFOviaMSP (Pacific Ocean)
There is no salary a restaurant server or cook can realistic make to live on an AirBnb.
Laura LaMastres (Vail)
Even if she did pay them more, a rental is hard to come by.
Medea (San Francisco)
Vacancy tax. Limit ownership of single-family to one, two tops, per family. Outlaw private equity ownership of single family homes. Cap or ban vacation home rentals in non-urban areas. San Francisco is sitting on 100,000 vacant units. Building more is NOT what this planet needs. Wisely managing current stock FBO people and place is the only thing that makes sense. And while lobbyists and special interests are throwing $200,000 at town council members, it will require heroic action and much courage. Do we as a nation possess these qualities? I have not seen the evidence.
SFOviaMSP (Pacific Ocean)
San Francisco problem vacancy problem is rental control. If you rent, you can’t raise the rent and you can’t remove them from the condo at expensive legal cost and takes forever. What landlord wants to rent under these conditions? Rental control is proven not to work. In the long run prices get higher and you have shortage of housing. Yet, cities like St. Paul will tried with a failed experiment. Einstein was right. Insanity is trying the same experiment multiple times and expecting different results.
Jake (West coast)
@Medea - First, you’ll need to get our pesky constitution out of the way. << Limit ownership of single-family to one, two tops, per family. Outlaw private equity ownership of single family homes>>
Linn (Moab, UT)
In my small city, the population is just under 6000 and the entire valley under 10,000 people. In just two years, property “values” have skyrocketed. Do an AirBnB search and you’ll find over 300 accommodations. A search on Trulia will show about 30 house listings with only 4 under $500,000. All those 4 are above $400,000. No twenty or thirty something can afford to buy and the worker shortage is crippling businesses. But our population swells at certain times of the year and for big events, sometimes to 25,000 more people. Earlier planning commissioners signed off on permit requests from multinational hotel chains thinking with dollar signs rather than smart planning. As of now there are over 1,000 hotel rooms still in the pipeline that are already approved and waiting to be built. Who is going to build and where will these people live? And it was like pulling teeth to get the city on board with a moratorium on permitting more overnight accommodations. Money is god here and it’s sad. Don’t get me started on the issues of land degradation at the whim of uneducated tourists who don’t care about the fragile environment, OR water. Moab will dry up completely one day, then there will be plenty of affordable housing.
Mike (SC)
@Linn "Money is god here". Basically the same can be said of most of the country. There are places where it's still not that way, mostly rural areas that nobody "in the know" would want to live, but they do exist (I live in one of them). But those areas are becoming rarer and rarer, even in my rural area, I'm starting to see the encroachment; some of it is good, I like Whole Foods and Starbucks as much as the next guy. But the ethos that comes with that, and the stratification of society that quickly follows, well.. That's why I left where I used to live, and will likely be why I leave here at some point in the future when the "growth at all costs" cancer finally kills the host.
John C (USA)
As long as we treat housing as an investment opportunity instead of shelter this will continue to happen.
Julie (Portland)
@John C so true. In the 50's/60's/70's and 80's homes were an investment in your future and stability. Then in 90's Wall Street took over the real estate market and new laws were created so investors could get low interest rates on multiples of property purchases and that is/was the beginning and end of "the American Dream" of homeownership. Now these hedge fund/wealthy or so rich they can just pay cash for neighborhoods and then get a loan.
Andy (NYC)
Amazing that AirBnB is so widely blamed and the proposed solution are bans, tax increases and government owned affordable housing for what is clearly a zoning and development tax code problem. If we need affordable housing, we need the zoning and tax codes to be reformed to prioritize that.
Amber (Hudson Valley)
Yes. People complain that the Hudson Valley is too expensive while fighting every change to zoning that would get houses built on less land and get more duplexes in. People want their fake rural lifestyle within range of NYC. I just want a small house.
C. Olson (Portland)
The finger pointing to short term vacation rentals always strikes me as something of a canard. I own a weekend home in a tiny town on the Oregon Coast (it is not located in Lincoln County, which is mentioned in the article.) The nearest larger town, Tillamook, does indeed have a shortage of worker housing. I don’t rent out the house for short term rental, but even if ordinances preventing me from doing so, it is very unlikely that nearby workers would be able to afford the market rental rate for a larger, ocean view home. I’m all for constructing attainable housing solutions in Tillamook which puts these workers close to their workplaces anyway. Another point rarely considered: there is no guarantee that long term renters won’t cause issues with noise, trash, or parking, which are often cited as evidence of the negative impact of short term rentals. The difference: the short term tenants typically leave at the end of the weekend. The long term tenants stick around.
Julie (Portland)
@C. Olson Good for you. It is the investment by private equity firms, foreigners who are buying up multiple properties around the good ole U.S. of A.
CS (SF Bay Area)
Build more housing - simple.
Sydney (Colorado)
Not so simple. The people who build said houses can’t afford to live in the communities that need them.
Mman1 (Colorado)
@CS It’s not simple at all. Most land in the mountains here is National Forest. There is also a lot of BLM land. Then there are the geographical problems. The truth is that buildable land is scarce, and that scarcity has been driving up prices for decades and pricing out low and middle income people - Econ 101.
bogdan (Madrid)
@Mman1 It is not scarce at all. There a vast swaths of the High Plains that are virtually deserted. Can we stop choosing the same places? You could live in Limon for almost no money - the level of entitlement / hubris that one has to live in the Front Range is ridiculous. We need a serious movement in this country back to dying small towns that are cheap and could provide a quality of life is people in my generation Millennials and younger gave them a chance.
bo (north of New york)
By my guess, there are 3 nice, unoccupied houses on my nice street. I own one of them, and have no need for it until the elderly relative I care for dies, in, best guess, 1 to 10 years. Similar stories at the other houses, and we don't sell because when family circumstances change, we will want to return to our own home. However, tenants rights being what they are, I am not about to offer my extra house for rent. A care assistant who helps us is currently struggling to get criminals evicted from the small building she lives in. Owning a rental property for a long-term tenant is a nightmare few small investors take on willingly anymore. I once rented to people who seemed fine but who then trashed a house, left drugs behind, worked on motorcycles indoors, and earned me a phone call at work from a federal agent, who located me by calling the HR office at my job. I count myself as progressive, even radical, on many issues, but progressives have caused a lot of these problems by making small landlord status untenable. Talk here of layers of regulations reinforces that reality for many potential landlords, I am guessing.
SomewhereOutTheres (USA)
VRBO/AirBnB is-destroying the country. There isn’t affordable housing in any corner of the US anymore.
Mike (SC)
@SomewhereOutTheres There is plenty in some areas, just nowhere near a major metro. In my immediate area, 120 homes for sale, median listing price of 200K. Most hover around 100/sq/ft, with the nicer homes pushing up closer to 150. The expensive "gentlemen's estates" can push 200-250/sq/ft, but often include dozens or 100's of acres of land. It's out there, it's just not close to any major city. And, yes, it's rural; so you have to be willing to deal with that, plenty of pros, plenty of cons.
AB (Brooklyn)
I wonder about Mr. Howard’s politics affiliation. With his anti-tax stance, if he understands which recalcitrant party is keeping the federal government from “getting its act together” on housing support.
Atticus (Elsewhere, UP)
Government should not be subsidizing the kind of low density sprawl illustrated by the photo of “affordable” housing under construction in Leadville regardless of the need for housing service workers for tourists. Reduce the footprint with centrally located townhousing and midrise housing instead. Home builders are supporting this ballot initiative because it puts money in their pockets to continue building the same land consuming stickbuilt homes that uglify the outskirts of most “hot” western towns. By all means, tax the tourists but use the money to encourage smarter planning.
Jen333 (Ohio)
So, I went and looked up the real estate listings for Leadville. A 2b/1ba 1000sq ft home built in 1888 that's on a postage stamp lot is going for $275K. I don't think suburban sprawl is the problem dor affordable homes in ski areas of Colorado where lot prices are $1M. Have you seen the prices for homes in these places? You have to be really wealthy to afford this stuff. Everything else was over a million.
Skyel (Colorado)
I think the photo is misleading. Most, if not all of the current affordable housing units being built in Leadville are apartment buildings, not individual homes.
Gimme Shelter (Chicago)
The answer to our housing shortage is simple: low rise multi-family. Building more suburban housing is exactly the wrong approach.
Jake (West coast)
@Gimme Shelter - The majority of Americans prefer suburban housing and lifestyles. Things are changing somewhat in the suburbs, but make no mistake, they are the future.
bogdan (Madrid)
@Gimme Shelter As a Chicagoan, we have an insane disparity between neighborhoods. I live in Albany Park which being invaded by former North Center residents, who were formerly Lake View / Lincoln Parkers. Five years ago we bought our condo for a very affordable $250K and now it's valued above $400K. Every two-flat is becoming a single family home. The multi-family that does it exist being gobbled up for Section 8 vouchers. All this to say, the neighborhood that was affordable and welcoming for generations to middle class immigrant families no longer is. It is a neighborhood of extreme wealth and extreme poverty with NO middle. However, there are massive pockets of the South and West Side with dirt cheap housing where density should be pushed - which could stabilize the market and housing costs. Affordable housing doesn't need to only be built in less affluent areas, but because investments aren't made - those neighborhoods continue to hollow out. Plus, we have the half abandoned Hammond and Gary immediately next door, which could easily accommodate those priced out elsewhere. There is no shortage of land nor supply, just a problem of those only willing to entertain a small number of neighborhoods and cities.
Ray Baura (San Francisco)
Sometimes you just have to live where you can afford. It’s the history of my family going back over a hundred years. How and why should that be any different today?
Deb Gordon (Colorado)
When housing costs escalate due to short term rentals and other factors, then hospitals, schools, etc. can’t find workers because workers can’t afford local housing.
Deb Gordon (Colorado)
I meant to include businesses in my example too. They are also really struggling to find workers in my town.
Deb Gordon (Colorado)
I meant to include businesses in my previous comment. In my town they are really struggling to find workers. The customers are there, but not enough workers so they have to cut hours and quite a few have had to go out of business. Our local hospital is having big issues finding needed employees due to lack of affordable housing.
D. Miller (Texas)
Many, many people who work in outdoor retail and guide services are indeed homeless. It’s been accepted practice for decades, but now more than ever, it seems like less of a choice. It forces the talent pool to be more young and inexperienced and the level of service and quality of goods cheapen. Next time you get a bike tune up or take a river trip keep this in mind. These industries are filled with greed too, and the folks working directly with customers make the absolute least in the chain with usually no benefits at all. Usually much less than other entry jobs like waitstaff and grocery checkers, despite the fact they’re skilled laborers.
J (Colorado)
Absolutely true. Period. Lower middle income is priced out of the housing market. Rentals are likewise unrealistically expensive. Starting a family can be very difficult for young people. Meritocracy works only on a level playing field.
Revoltingallday (Durham NC)
This is the political cowards way to fix problems - tax people that don’t vote there, so Republicans do not have to face voters and tell them the cold hard truth: your taxes are so low the community you bought into cannot function. And so we, Republicans, are going to raise your taxes. Since the dawn of Reaganism, this is the fundamental flaw in our system. It’s the same issue that the condo that collapsed in Florida had - no one wants to pay what it takes to keep the structure secure, and they will fire anyone that tells them there is no alternative to paying. The only thing this accomplishes is driving business to areas with lower prices. Oh well.
Christine Finn (Queens)
We need greater diversity of housing choices. My grandparents met bc they lived in the same boarding house in 1925. Boarding houses (now called SROs) were once common and probably allowed young single people to save up to get their own place. They seem to have disappeared.
Frank (Boston)
They didn’t just disappear. The City made them illegal. Better to have poor alcoholics or drug addicts in tents on the streets.
Jen333 (Ohio)
When my great grandmother was abandoned by her husband (who essentially bought her at the age of 14, and he was 29), he left her with 3 tiny boys and a house that wasn't paid for. She was 18. To keep a roof over her head, she took in boarders, and fed them. She did their laundry, cooked their meals, and cleaned their rooms. It was a hard life, but she found husband #2. This is essentially impossible to do now in many places. Look back through census rolls, you will see how common this was.
Ted Siebert (Chicagoland)
I’m not an expert on this but I have stayed in a number of Airbnb’s and there is an unmistakable pattern to these places- a large majority of them are cheap, poorly stocked and can be located in the most dire of neighborhoods. I love the space that Airbnb provides, but if I’m worried about my safety I’m not coming back period. I spend more time looking out the windows of the Airbnb windows to get a better indication of the neighborhood and how well the kitchen is stocked than I do just about anything else. The hotel industry would be doing themselves a big solid if they spent a bit more time putting on a spread for breakfast like their European counterparts, instead it seems to be race on how much plastic garbage I can produce in just one breakfast sitting. It’s all I talk about when I travel and stay at some of these places is the garbage they/me generate with portly portion controlled swill they serve as the most important meal of the day.
Noley (Maine)
@Ted Siebart I have been kinda picky about Airbnbs so have not had your issues, but I do check out the locales ahead of time. But to me they are just a place to sleep. I don’t spend much time in any of them but I like a place less vanilla than a hotel. I agree that US hotels should offer more, especially breakfast (which you do pay extra for in Europe, BTW). But it’s easy to stay in places in the US that offer breakfast. Ok the rooms at (say) a Springhill Suites aren’t as nice as in the next one up the Marriott hierarchy, but if you one uses the room just for sleeping and a shower then they are fine. I spend up to 60 nights a year on the road and have gotten less picky, but at the same time more demanding. It’s just another night on the road. But if I’m gonna be any place more than a couple nights I go for a carefully selected Airbnb.
Local Labrat (Bronx, NY)
What people fail to understand is that affordable housing is created from old housing. New developments are never built to be affordable— developers build to the market. Developments become less desirable as they age and as new developments enter the market. Zoning regulations and restrictions on new high density housing made in the 1990s is what created the affordable housing crisis. Even liberalization of the zoning code for high density housing wouldn’t correct these issues in the short term. The only way out of this problem is a combination of policy reforms (although the consequence is that the city itself will grow, and additional services will need to be created) targeted relief housing for low income people. Its like none of these people ever played Sim City!
KMac (The far western fringe)
I would have to disagree. There are NO zoning regulations in my community and there never have been and likely never will be. And there are few Airbnb rentals. Still, we have the same housing problems as anywhere else. We also have limited buildable land in that we’re in a narrow river valley surrounded on all sides by rugged, unbuildable mountain ranges. And we don’t want to build tall buildings because the one thing we all share here is a great view. No one wants to have the views blocked. There are no solutions as far as I can tell.
Allison (Texas)
@Local Labrat: People realize this, but are helpless to stop developers from swooping in to buy up all of the older, affordable homes with cash — thus shoving aside less wealthy people who would need a mortgage — then razing them to put up very expensive duplexes, triplexes, or even quadriplexes. This is happening all over our city. On our street alone we’ve lost at least five affordable homes to real estate developers.
BorisRoberts (Santa Maria, CA)
I know what will help! We'll let millions of people stream across our southern border, basically unchecked. They can apply for asylum, and get an appointment maybe 7 years down the road (I can't remember an appointment next week. 7 years down the road? No, I would definitely not remember that). Then they open the door to the beautiful 50 states of the USA. Which is having a major issue with affordable housing (I wish I would have bought an apartment complex a couple decades ago, in hindsight). What could possibly go wrong? And....whatever happened to all the Haitians? Did northern Mexico just absorb them? They went somewhere besides Del Rio, but. not one word about them after that last day under the bridge. How much would you like to bet that they let them all in?
Jo Williams (Keizer)
First, the immigration mess is mostly the result of Republicans refusing to argue, join, add to any solutions. Second, by mixing the different groups, DACA kids (now adults), farm workers (needed by all those …conservative agricultural communities), refugees (from drug cartels, corrupt governments), and purely economic immigrants (from nations who eschew labor unions, fair wages), you do what President Trump did…use an issue, but never work to solve it.
mm (California)
There have been plenty of articles about the Haitians being flown home. You simply need to search. There have also been articles about drownings in the ocean at Tijuana. This, because the border on land is getting better tracked all the time, with sensors and video.
Gub (New Jersey)
Look around you. We need these immigrants. American born families won’t do the hard manual jobs. Republicans make this a political issue, then hire them to do the hard work. Watch what Republicans do, not what they say. A case in point: our last president. On point of the article, SRO’s (Single Room Occupancy) are my solution to this problem. Lots of unmarried people would be happy in one.
Andrew Gase (Austin, Texas)
Tech giants undercut the vacation market by avoiding regulations that would apply to the hotel industry and competing with long-term renters. Uber and Lyft did the same for transportation. These companies offer little in real value and their "disruption" (term worshipped by the start-ups) has long-term consequences for people who are trying to scrape by.
EB (San Diego, CA)
@Andrew Gase People who are trying to "scrape by" include me - a long term renter in a San Diego beach town. While the city continues to be buffeted by the forces of airbnb -deep pockets with which to lobby it - the scarcity of housing increases and the rents go up. One would think "density" might solve the problem, but - with few places being set aside as affordable housing - it does not.
Preston (Brooklyn)
The writers did not seem to consider the onerous taxes and similar structural overhead for traditional hotels that make Airbnb so attractive in the first place. Like the taxi and livery businesses, hotels themselves have carried on for ages charging top dollar for every service and amenity. How can municipalities help the hospitality industry renew itself to compete with the short-term rental entrepreneurs? Hotels are also local employers.
mm (California)
Hotels should consider expanding into a different space, depending on location. Most of my travel involves staying for several days with a spouse, two kids and a dog. I'm not interested in room with two queen beds. I'd like a kitchenette (not just a mini fridge and microwave), more than two chairs, and a suite. It's not just a place to sleep.
HistoryRhymes (NJ)
More taxes! That should fly well.
conniesz (Boulder)
More taxes on tourists and temporary residents, not the folks doing the voting. This will pass easily.
Jennifer (New York)
How extraordinary that none of these communities have considered changing their zoning codes to allow for accessory apartments. This used to be quite common, and a sensible way to house young people just starting out their careers as teachers or nurses or skilled tradespeople and relieve them of the added burden of long commutes into the towns where the work is. Building second and third floor residential units also used to be standard practice for commercial buildings in urban cores. Now we have single story strip malls and big box stores with lots of unused space above them. Mixed use zoning could resolve so many problems!
Gub (New Jersey)
Similar: Granny Housing. A tiny apartment you build in the back of your yard. When your daughter moves home after grad school, she can live there too.
Deb Gordon (Colorado)
Good idea, but….We have tons of these additional dwelling units, mostly alley houses or built over garages. Guess what? People from out of town buy houses that have these additional units or houses that have the space to build these units as investments and then make money by turning them into short term housing aka vacation rentals. This results in less available rental housing for local workers and escalating real estate prices and rents due to housing scarcity.
PerryB (Idaho)
@Jennifer ADUs in tourist towns become airbnbs unless there is a deed restriction preventing that.
Italian special (USA)
Same problem in our small Catskills town. The community is eating itself alive because of airbnb. There is intense gaslighting around this but it’s patently obvious.
David Esrati (Dayton Ohio)
Blaming AirBnB for a housing shortage is popular these days. No one mentions the insane tax increases by re-valuation of real estate that make long term renting less desirable. Instead of bringing in $20k a year for my 2 single bedroom shotgun cottages, I’m closer to $60k. I’m also cleaning them non-stop. When I paid $19,500 each for them in 1995- banks wouldn’t even lend to me. Blame the bankers and the tax man, not the hardworking hosts.
Sue (Philadelphia)
I am glad your properties are generating outsized income since you converted from long term to short term stays. Isn’t it reasonable that some of that increase income goes towards affordable housing for all?
Nyc_den (New York)
To some folks giving anything to the community that lets them profit is unthinkable. Why should they help pay for the infrastructure that makes their business possible. Greed is rampant.
BorisRoberts (Santa Maria, CA)
So, penalize someone's good foresight to invest in 2 small pieces of property, by taking more of his return on investment? How about those guys like Google or Apple, or the Pharmaceutical Giants that are making unbelievable (nee, obscene) profits off the Covid vaccines that the US Government paid to implement, but the corporate Pharmaceutical companies get to keep all the profits and pay very little tax on it (or......none)? The latest big noise in congress, the new woman in the headlines, has received over $750,000 in campaign contributions from the Pharmaceutical lobbyists, and watch how she votes, every vote will favor those companies. This is corruption. But you want to take it from the little guys.
Ken M. (New York)
Real estate investors build housing to make money, and appropriately so. Measures such as curbs on short-term rentals will discourage these investments and reduce the supply of new housing being built. Totally counterproductive.
Ryan (Denver)
If it’s an STR it’s not housing. Communities need to severely restrict the number or outright ban STRs if they want any shot at affordable housing.
Ken M. (New York)
@Ryan Every time I have engaged a short term rental I have slept, cooked, and bathed there. That’s called housing. Besides, if you prohibit STR’s it won’t result in more housing being built, but less.
Songbird (NJ)
Greed is not the govt’s problem. Miraculously some people can live in and afford Leadville. Paying minimum wage or close to it makes that impossible. Pay a living wage.
Evan Strevell (Cincinnati)
My guess is real estate prices in Leadville are so high that a cafe owner would not be able to afford a home there let alone pay an employee enough to afford housing. I bet if you wandered over to Zillow and typed in Leadville, you’d change your tune pretty quickly. I can guarantee longtime year round residents that own homes bought them many years ago before prices skyrocketed. Housing prices out west, especially in the mountains, are just bonkers.
Julie (Denver, CO)
Sadly Leadville is definitely one of the more affordable mountain towns but colorado. I’m told it used to be kind of a dumpy tourist destination for folks who didnt want to pay for the more upscale mountain resorts but even thats unaffordable now. I’m in Denver, and the same homes in my neighborhood that were $550K-$650k 6 years ago and $700-860k pre-pandemic (2018-2019) are suddenly $900K - $1.1 million today. We looked at a dump that literally had a 1 foot hole in the wall of the garage and water damage and cracks all over the basement and that sold the first weekend on the market for about $830k. My husband and I cant afford anything in our neighborhood beyond our ugly little duplex at this point and we are two middle aged professionals in IT and IT leadership with just one elementary school aged child. I cant imagine how a young person just starting out in retail or the service sector is making it.
See also