Short term rentals, long term consequences

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Capture3Few issues have elicited such polarizing responses in Santa Barbara as that of short-term housing. Defined as rentals under 30 days, short-term rentals have become a more affordable, and often roomier alternative to traditional hotels. Companies like AirBNB and V.R.B.O, which facilitate these rentals, are now commonly used when vacationers plan their next trip.

As the trend grew, more and more short term rentals opened up in areas of the city that are not zoned for such use. Until now, city officials turned a blind eye. The city even collects a Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) from registered properties.

But, now the Santa Barbara City Council has decided to crack down on the short-term rental market, citing its impact on affordable housing and neighborhood disturbances. At one of the best attended city council meetings this August, short-term rental property owners advocated for better regulation rather than an outright ban.

To get a handle on the issues, KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian spoke with two people ingrained in the debate. Theo Kracke is the president of Paradise Retreats, a short-term rental company. Geoff Green is the chair of the Santa Barbara Housing Authority.

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City of Santa Barbara Zoning Map. Click to enlarge.

Under existing zoning rules, short-term vacation rentals are only allowed in non-residential or mixed-use zones. However, a quick search on vacation rental sites will turn up many properties advertised in residential neighborhoods like the Mesa, the Westside and Mission Canyon. The city estimates roughly 1,000 vacation rental properties exist in the city, and roughly one-third of them are paying bed taxes.

“We have such a tight housing market. We can’t afford to take anything off the market for folks that are not residents.”

– Geoff Green, chair of the Santa Barbara Housing Authority

“Our industry contributed $1.2 million last year in TOT revenue. Why can’t that be put toward supporting Geoff’s cause, and make it a win-win?”

– Theo Kracke, president of Paradise Retreats