LETTER:STA Owners not to blame for housing shortage

I just read The Gazette’s story about Council’s power to improve housing (Jan. 13,, 2022 Power to improve housing complement with council’s reach) and feel the need to comment.

Although others may not agree with my point of view on STAs, I think going after homeowners is not a solution to affordable housing. It is pandering to a knee-jerk assessment about what’s causing the lack of affordable housing, and once implemented, the additional STA limitations won’t make any difference for much needed affordable housing availability.

The expert council hired was chosen specifically because he has a track record of being anti STA. It was publicly announced they were hiring him using the $30,000 in additional revenue from licensing specifically to build a legal case for further action against STA owners. (By the way, there should have never been any additional revenue from fees, and those funds should have been put back into the community of homeowners and used to lower licensing fees, as was promised when licensing was being created.)

The report published wasn’t particularly negative towards STAs, but it is being referenced regularly as the reason action must be taken. It did read, “Grow the STA market, but shrink negative housing impacts.” Council is regulating STAs, and as such, is responsible for improving the state of STA rentals.

However council seems to be bent on making it more difficult for people to earn money from their homes through licensing, while making it difficult for the honest home-owners who stepped up to play by the rules and operate their STAs legally, and not addressing illegal STAs as they promised to do.

There is a common understanding that many of the county’s problems are caused by STA rentals, but the data doesn’t support it. For example, if the cost of housing was tied to STAs, then the moratorium on whole home STAs a couple years ago would have caused a reduction in the average purchase price of homes, but we saw prices go up and continue to do so. So why keep going after STAs as a solution to the cost of housing?

The assumption STAs would become affordable housing if they weren’t allowed to be rented short-term is a stretch. Has anyone even asked if STA owners would even consider converting their homes into affordable housing? People on social media seem to think stopping STAs from operating will open up 1,200 new affordable housing opportunities, but doesn’t make any sense.

The majority of STAs are owned by people who live in the county and are using additional income to help cover their mortgage and other expenses. Offering a space in your home for a weekend is very different than having someone move in permanently.

Most STAs have been renovated at a signifiant cost to the owners because of their income potential. Even if these places would become available for long-term rentals, there’s no way they’d be affordable to most people. And the same goes for the sale of STAs, as these homes would be priced at the high-range of properties because of all their updates, …and would no doubt raise the average cost of housing inventory in the county, which would raise the cost of all homes since average sale prices in a neighbourhood is how house prices are determined.

Being a landlord is not the same as renting an STA. There are much higher risks and far less rewards for being a full-time landlord. Rents may seem high right now, but the cost of ownership is much higher. Every cost tied to homeownership has gone up. The long-term legal and financial risks of getting a bad tenant, as well as the concern of having to be on call 24/7 to address tenant issues, while not being able to earn enough money to cover expenses, makes offering full-time accommodations not worth the trouble to most homeowners.

We need to look for housing solutions, rather than penalizing homeowners who are taking advantage of the lack of tourist accommodations in the area to earn some money. It’s not their job to solve affordable housing. It’s council’s. And limiting STAs may sound like it is doing something productive, but it just hurts locals’ ability to pay for their homes, without actually creating new housing opportunities.

We’ve seen bizarre choices being made by council, like $400 parking tickets, that attempt to solve one problem, but instead penalize the people in the county without a real solution to improve the lives of those same people. STA licensing is arguably the same, as we’re ineffectively trying to solve one problem but causing other problems instead. STAs provide much needed revenue to people in the county, both directly to the people who own the homes, and indirectly to everyone who lives and works here in the form of tourism dollars for the businesses we’re so proud of.

Other regions are struggling to make themselves appealing to tourists, while we seem to want to make it harder for everyone. If you live in the county you should be benefiting from tourism dollars. Limiting the availability of tourist accommodations doesn’t help anyone. What a lot of people don’t know is any newer licensed STAs are either owner occupied, or full-time renter occupied.

One thing council did right was to allow STAs to operate in homes that have a full-time rental apartment. This creates a full-time rental opportunity where the STA subsidizes the cost to the full-time tenant, and allows affordable rent. We need is more solutions like this that maximize the opportunity for both local home owners and for people in need of affordable housing.

Peter Benes