What about short-term rentals?!

As you can imagine, I have had a lot of questions and concerns regarding Airbnb and hosted vs. unhosted short-term rentals in Traverse City. I've met with many different people (housing and tourism experts, property managers, city staff and residents) and I have some thoughts, but it is a complex issue and I'm still learning.


The local housing shortage is taking a toll on both residents and businesses in Traverse City. Many residents struggle while living in housing that’s too expensive for their budgets. Young families are leaving the city to find lower costs of living, and all too often, businesses that have opportunities to grow are unable to hire new employees because they can’t find the home they need at a price they can afford.

Our community is facing a myriad of obstacles related to the availability of affordable and appropriate year-round permanent housing and there is no silver bullet solution. According to Housing North, over the past decade roughly fifteen percent of our housing stock has been converted to vacation or short-term rentals with one in five homes being purchased by investors or speculators. Most of our opportunities for housing growth are in the commercial districts, yet these are being developed for short-term rentals, too.


So, what about the neighborhoods? A neighborhood is defined as “a district, especially one forming a community within a town or city.” For me, the key word here is “community.” I was fortunate enough to grow up in a place where we all knew our neighbors, socialized regularly, shared resources and basically looked out for one another. It makes me sad to think that many neighborhoods are now being viewed simply as “places we live.”


I also recognize how hard it is to afford to live in Traverse City, and I honor an individual's right to share their homes in order to make ends meet. For that reason, I support both long- and short-term home sharing in the neighborhoods, but only if they are owner-occupied primary residences. I think allowing unhosted short-term rentals operated by non-resident investors is a slippery slope and basically risks turning our neighborhoods into defacto commercial hotel districts.


Right now, City permits for High Impact Tourist Homes allow for up to three rooms (no more than %50 of the home), more than 85 room nights per year, and they must be separated by 1000 feet. There is no limit on Low Impact Tourist Home rentals as long as no more than two rooms are being rented, and for no more that 84 room nights.


In my opinion, Traverse City has a fair Tourist Home ordinance in place which restricts short-term rentals in the neighborhoods. There have been very few complaints since the ordinance was enacted nearly a year ago, and as a city commissioner I would not recommend making any changes to it. If complaints remain low, I would consider dropping distance restrictions in the future.

There also seems to be confusion surrounding hosted Tourist Homes in residential areas vs. unhosted Vacation Rentals in commercial districts. Obviously, I'm familiar with The Village at Grand Traverse Commons and I have first-hand knowledge of the short-term Vacation Rentals happening there (it is a mixed use district that allows them). So I will say that several of the condominium associations on site are concerned with the growing numbers of Vacation Rentals and are worried about the overall long-term impacts. People live in the Village because of the community that has developed there, and they want to be part of a neighborhood, in the truest sense of the word. So, I think balance is necessary – even in commercial districts.