A representative from Expedia.com attended a recent town hall at the Hood River Elks Club, to offer the company’s perspective on the simmering short-term vacation rental issue, according to Jon Gehrig of the advocacy group Livable Hood River.
Gehrig “observed” the meeting through a tape recording, gathered by fellow LHR member Kate Hoffman. He shared his group’s perspective in a media release. Efforts by the Buzz to reach the pro-STR group Lovable Hood River via e-mail on June 9 received no response by the time this post first went live. Comments below came in a June 17 e-mail response from group representative Elizabeth Whelan.
Livable Hood River notes that “short-term rental offerings have quadrupled in the last five years, impacting the community’s already depleted available housing stock.”
Whelan argued that STR uses comprise “less than 4% of the total residences in Hood River,” and asked rhetorically how that coud “constitute an emergency?”
Expedia, which also owns the owner-managed property rental site VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner), is one of the world’s largest travel conglomerates, with revenues around $5.5 billion dollars. In response to a request by Lovable Hood River, Expedia sent Joy Langley, its Government Affairs Manager for the Northwest.
“We don’t think that a corporation like Expedia—turning residential housing into businesses—has our community’s best interests at heart,” said Gehrig, president of Livable Hood River.
At the meeting, Gehrig said, Expedia openly offered their monetary and legal assistance to help “Lovable” Hood River, a pro-STR business advocacy group, fight future regulations. Livable Hood River (ed. note: earlier version said “Lovable”) has argued that conversion of homes to vacation rental use has depleted options for year-round residents.
Whelan said, “Lovable Hood River promotes fair and straightforward regulation of STR’s, the prevention of unchecked growth of new STR licenses and the development of strategies that will actually lead to the building of affordable housing, including apportioning some of the TRT to an affordable housing building fund.”
TRT refers to the city’s transient room tax of 8 percent on lodgers. The city allocates 25 percent of those receipts to tourism marketing, and uses the balance in its general fund.
Whelan said the focus on short-term rentals has “taken the public eye away from the true problem of affordable and work force housing. And yet, the City has not taken one step toward Strategy 1 to plan for affordable housing.”
Strategy 1 adopted by the city council last fall said it wanted focus on creating greater housing density to make use of limited land. The third strategy (beyond a look at tightening use of homes for STRs) was to plan for more affordable housing.
Gehrig said Langley, in the audio from the meeting, “at one point … mentioned that proceeds from TRT could fund buses to ship workers in to town from cheaper areas.”
According to the Livable Hood River news release, Hoffman said: “Local residents should be deciding what happens in their community, not outside corporate interests and travel conglomerates, who only seek to increase their bottom line at our expense.”
Hood River City Council has put a moratorium on new STRs for the next six months, while they continue to deliberate the issue. They met Monday, June 13, to resume discussions.
Cindty Walbridge, city planning director, said the council at that meeting considered several possible policy decisions, but each option died for lack of a second.
She said the council will resume deliberation on Monday, June 27.
Decision-making has been complicated by, first, the recusal of two council members, Becky Brun and Laurent Picard, and second, by Picard’s decision to resign. Picard resigned so the council could approach full representation by appointing a fifth member to help the council must the four votes required to take binding action.
Walbridge said the council will not fill the vacant seat until Monday, July 11, when they have interviews and appoint Picard’s replacement.
(Editor’s note: The foregoing report contains comment that arrived several days after the initial June 15 report.)