Empty Houses on the Block

Eugene’s lack of regulations for the short-term rental market may be taking away rooms from residents

Over the last decade, Airbnb has changed the way people book their vacations, allowing homeowners to make extra money and travelers to enjoy more options in where they stay.

But as this short-term rental market in Eugene exponentially grows, Eugene housing advocates believe these rentals are taking rooms away from an already depleted and costly long-term rental market. The Olympic trials and the 2021 World Athletic Championships are getting closer, and experts are criticizing city leaders for their lack of action.

Sherri Schultz, creator of the group Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers, a community resource for discussing smaller living spaces such as tiny houses and co-living situations, says not having regulations on short-term rentals is robbing citizens of housing.

“What I do know is 32 Oregon communities have already regulated this. It’s not like some crazy scheme that we just thought of,” Shultz says. “We are way late.”

Schultz says she believes timing is crucial because of Eugene’s rising popularity as a destination and the lack of affordable housing already plaguing the city. An Airbnb press release noted that Eugene saw a 213 percent increase in booking from year to year. 

Eugene was also listed as the West Coast’s top destination for Airbnb, preceding the Olympic trials in this coming June and  2021. People coming to town for these events can pay anywhere from $40 to upwards of $600 a night to rent rooms or entire houses.

According to Airbnb and Schultz’s research, there are 1,154 Airbnbs in Eugene. About one to two-thirds of those overnight stays are entire-house rentals, and others are bedrooms or backyard cottages. Two other popular home renting websites, HomeAway and Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), list an additional 198 properties. 

The Eugene City Council discussed creating ordinances regulating short-term rentals in its Dec. 11 work session. Councilor Claire Syrett argued that many of the issues were assumptions. The council decided to conduct more research before creating new policies.

Shultz says the city has a few different options in regulating short-term rentals. One is to find a way to increase the transient room tax. This state tax applies to all overnight stays, including hotels and bed and breakfasts. According to Oregon law, the tax money is to be used for tourism purposes. Rental sites like Airbnb work with users to ensure they are complying with the transient room tax.

“Here, it funds cultural services. The rental housing stock of Eugene needs to be protected or expanded,” Schultz says. She adds that she has been disappointed in the council’s previous lack of action on the topic.

Another path the city can take in regulation is setting limits on how many rentals an owner can operate. Ryan Moore, City Council candidate and co-founder of the Springfield-Eugene Tenant Association, says in some neighborhoods a single owner will buy out multiple homes for the purpose of renting, leaving mostly empty houses in residential areas.

“The problem is, when a whole house is being purchased with the expressed purpose of being a short-term rental.” Moore says.

Syrett disagrees.

“That’s a fear,” she says. “But it’s not happening. Do we need to regulate for something that isn’t happening?”

Syrett also says she is not convinced these rentals take away from the rental market. She says she would need to see more data.

“I understand why that’s a worry. I don’t think it’s a huge number and I think there are many other things the city has control over to help housing,” Syrett says.

When short-term rentals are discussed, Schultz says the conversation often revolves around someone wanting to make money versus a disgruntled neighbor upset about parties in the neighborhood, but that the problem is much more widespread and needs to be dealt with quickly.

“We are talking about the overall health of the community. Nobody on the City Council is talking about that,” she says.

This story has been updated.