Guest column: Thoughts to ponder regarding the future of VHRs in South Lake Tahoe
September 13, 2017
I am a 20 year local, raised five kids in Tahoe and have been involved in community happenings during all of it.
Before I lived here full time I frequented the lake while my grandmother lived here through the '70s and '80s. I believe that qualifies me to say that I am intimately familiar with the area.
Over the years I have watched neighborhoods undergo drastic change. High cost of living coupled with high housing prices made it very tight for a median income family to make it here.
Many sought opportunity for affordable housing in the surrounding valley areas. My children experienced the heartbreak of friends moving away because the parents couldn't make end's meet anymore.
Soon we saw the housing crisis take hold as second homeowners walked away from their mortgages and a tidal wave of foreclosure and short sales flooded our town. A major recession had transformed our region and it hit locals hard. It was a perfect storm for VHRs to grow in number.
We all know what the issues are — too loud, too many, too much trash and too few places for workforce housing — so I won't bore you with more presentation about what you already know. I do, however, want to leave a few things here for you to think about.
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In recent threads of social media commentary the question has been asked: Are VHRs legal?
The city ordinance is confusing and convoluted. According to a representative at the city, the VHR permit acts as a business license. They are in fact still operating as a business of accommodation. In reality there is no difference between a single-family home with a VHR permit and a motel. Motels are not permitted in R1 zones.
Many towns are taking back control and banning vacation rentals altogether. I admire these pioneers that are telling Airbnb, VRBO and the like that they are not welcome.
Time will tell if this will devastate their economy, but I have to think back to a time when South Lake Tahoe wasn't saturated with VHRs. We made it. We THRIVED. We will make it still.
We have hotels and motels operating well below capacity that need to be filled. Reducing or banning the number of VHRs will not close the floodgates of tourism. We still have world-class amenities that tourists will always desire. They will still come to town in droves on Friday afternoon and clog the roadways out on Sunday morning. Having the hotels full will bring in the lost TOT, keep the casinos buzzing and the restaurants serving.
In last week's Real-tor Talk it was asked, "How many of us would rather rent a home or a condo when going on vacation than a hotel room?" Fair question. If this is the experience you seek, you can easily find it in the plethora of time-share facilities in South Lake Tahoe. This should be the viable solution that we turn to when looking for a more home-like setting with kitchen access and more elbowroom.
Of paramount concern is lack of workforce housing. There are no easy answers to this problem. There are reports of cities beginning to implement a penalty or "luxury tax" to those who choose to keep their minimally occupied second homes vacant.
Currently this is showing signs of being a positive motivator to increase long-term rentals in areas with a housing crisis.
I am not an expert on where the dollar goes once it leaves the pocket of a visitor. What I do know is that they are booking a rental online, making payment to someone who lives out of the area, driving up in their SUVs filled with gas paid for in their hometown.
They cook their meals in their VHR kitchen with food bought from their grocery stores at home. They might spend a few bucks on a cheap sled to leave broken at the bottom of the hill when all the fun is gone out of it.
As a real estate agent, I am willing to take the risk of losing a sale in order to stabilize the community. Selling vacation rentals isn't what pays my bills, but selling homes to families does.
Contrary to popular belief, not all real estate agents are looking to line their pockets at the cost of violating the right to peaceful enjoyment.
Brandie Jordan Griffith is a Real Estate Agent for Realty World Lake Tahoe.
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