Airbnb regulations proposed here have failed elsewhere already

Dear Sen. Russell — what a great piece on the helicopter situation, wow! You tell it like it is.

The same kind of “fox guard the hen house” regulation on display is at work in the short-term rentals/Airbnb situation. We realize that much of the land use regulation is county level, but — as with the helicopters — we are rapidly losing our neighborhoods to a bunch of rogue operators and we are getting desperate. Smart operators — more often mainland based than not — have totally bastardized what was once a beneficial home-sharing movement and traditional B&Bs. Our departments refuse to enforce their own zoning code — perhaps their bosses hope for future increased property tax collections — and so, according to figures from Appleseed Institute, almost 400 more homes every month are taken away from our residential and ag communities all over the state, 33,000 homes taken so far.


Proponents of vacation rentals and B&Bs tell us that these high-end houses are not within reach of the poor, the homeless, or young, local people anyway, so this will not impact them. They are wrong —the poor and the young will be directly impacted and they will be the most impacted.

It works like this: One more high-priced house leaves the rental market to become an Airbnb. That occupant takes their high income to a slightly lower cost house and displaces someone from that rental price range. That displaced someone moves into a slightly lower cost house and displaces someone else yet again. This continues until we reach the lowest rental price rung where someone ends up with no house. There is no other way for it to work. So long as a property owner or leaseholder can rent out a room on Airbnb for cheaper than the price of a hotel room, while earning a substantial premium over the residential market or long-term rent, there is an overpowering incentive to list each unit in a building on Airbnb rather than to residents, thereby creating mini hotels everywhere. This decreases the supply of housing and spurs displacement, gentrification, and segregation.


In Bill 108, our administration through the County Council, is putting forward a sweeping and already outdated “permit system” that claims to do the right thing. But when you compare the complex language actually put forward it focuses more on putting the infrastructure for a later property taxation scheme in place. It imposes no meaningful limits on any existing operators and is based on a version 1.0 enforcement scheme in trying to deter future ones. This same approach already failed in other U.S. West Coast jurisdictions, and on Kauai, but nobody bothers to look. May we ask for some leadership from you and other well respected community leaders here as well.

Stefan Buchta is a resident of Hilo.