Joshua Tree’s infrastructure fails to keep up with tourism boom

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More than 1,000 vacation rentals exist in the larger Joshua Tree area, according to AirDNA, an analytics company that tracks short-term rentals. Photo by Shutterstock.

Merilee Kuchon has lived in Joshua Tree since 2004, back when it was more of a quiet little town. She says it’s wonderful that millions of tourists visit Joshua Tree National Park every year to experience the desert. “I think everybody should come out to the desert and love it. I mean, it is a stunningly beautiful place,” she says.

All these tourists need a place to stay. Luckily, there are thousands of short-term rentals (STRs) to choose from. According to AirDNA, an analytics company that tracks STRs, more than 1,000 vacation rentals exist in the larger Joshua Tree area alone.

Joshua Tree wasn’t always highly populated with AirBnbs and Vrbos. Since the latter half of 2020, the number of local STRs has increased by roughly 50%, according to AirDNA. 

JoJo Swieven, a realtor who owns one of those short term rentals and has been visiting Joshua Tree since the 90s, says, “What drew me to the area was the architecture and design and live music. And these things have really boomed in the last few years along with STRs.” 

But Kuchon says the boom is challenging. “The influx of tourists has been great. The infrastructure has not matched,” she says.

Kuchon, who owns a local deli called Roadrunner Grab and Go, notices that a lot of people, including her own employees, have been getting evicted by their landlords, who want to convert properties into STRs. She says, long-term rentals for locals are now almost nonexistent. 

Lately, Kuchon says, the overabundance of STRs in recent years has caused some property owners to convert their buildings back to long-term rentals. But in order to pay the mortgage they have to charge rent as high as $5,000 a month

Kucon and her fellow community members try to attend monthly meetings with their county and communicate frequently with the San Bernardino County representative, but she feels it isn’t enough. “It's always been a struggle to feel like our voices are being heard, honestly, whether it's in Yucca or whether it's in the county,” she says.

This year, San Bernardino County is conducting a study to determine the impact of short-term rentals in the area. Joshua Tree residents and others in the Morongo Basin will be able to attend the next meeting on August 24, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at the Joshua Tree Community Center.