Is The Rise Of Vacation Rentals, AirBnB and VRBO Negatively Impacting the Residents of San Juan County, WA?


August 3, 2019 by epoetus




It is hard to correlate these changes statistically using the political economic rigor required to make a solid case, but it is possible. Certainly we can use the bigger economic picture that we’re seeing in Washington State, across the nation and around the world for a cross check. The links in the reference section below allow us to review at a lot of detailed factual data that paint a picture of our current situation and the direction of the trend that we’re heading in. In addition, this data can be used to identify possible solutions to those problems.

The data collected by these surveys and the presentations of the analysis suggests that the increase vacation rentals is impacting the residents of San Juan County in the following ways:

• Housing permits to create new vacation rentals is rising.  Anyone can immediately turn a house into a vacation rental as there is not a residency requirement or a requirement that a house be occupied by its owner for a period of time before they can turn it into a vacation rental.
• Off island investors are actively creating a large percentage of these new vacation rentals. And with that the profits and jobs created for this profit will go off island as well – call it the “Amazon-ification” of rentals which has destroyed local retail businesses.
• Overall homelessness is rising in San Juan County – it has easily doubled over 10 years
• There is a chronic and growing affordable housing problem in San Juan County. The 2018 approved San Juan County Excise Tax demonstrates that those who live here see the problem, and have approved this option as a viable way to address the problem. Nobody believes that it alone is a solution.
• The San Juan County affordable housing work group strategic action plan from 2017 calls for a need to regulate vacation rentals – yearly fees, inspections, etc. This work has not been started.
• Professional people, like teachers, move off island because they can’t find affordable housing. This “brain drain” is a chronic problem.
• Concern over the adequacy of housing permits and infrastructure when the usage goes up from Vacation Rental use (e.g. the gallons per minute for wells, the capacity of septic systems, cars parking and volume of cars).

Other questions for which there is probably data to answer them:
Could an increase in the number of vacation rentals lead to a rise in rent for year-round residents?
Could an increase in the number of vacation rentals reduce the availability of rentals for residents?
The answer to these appear to be: “Yes.”

Is it time to look at regulating Vacation Rentals, VRBO and AirBnB?

Now that we have an organization focused on this issue – vacation rentals Orcas – it is gaining traction. Is it time to define the regulations and make recommendations to the County Council for adoption and implementation? What should the goals be:
• Reduce homelessness
• Increase the availability of affordable housing and stop the “brain drain”
• Maintain character and culture of our county
• Ban AirBnB and VRBO in San Juan County
• Eliminate the negative economic impacts associated with turning our county into a tourist playground that is loaded with vacation rentals (e.g. homelessness and affordable housing)
• Implement a “Buy Local” strategy. Require that all vacation rentals be owned and operated by individual permanent residents of San Juan County? Maybe have a limit on the number of vacation rentals that any one person in the county can own?
• Require that all people working in the vacation rental business earn living wages (e.g. greater than $15/hr) as determined by some economic index for the cost of living in San Juan County?
• Impose taxes on vacation rentals and tax the “absentee landlords” an extremely high, potentially unsustainable tax rate that discourages the practice?
• Revise housing permits to account for increased occupancy for Vacation Rentals.



Other questions to consider:
Should we encourage vacation rentals at all?
Is it possible to increase the availability of places to stay by encouraging new Hotels and motels?
Do we want to put a lid on the total number of places that people can stay in San Juan County?

What do we want San Juan County to become?  Do we want it to be known for progressivism, compassion, humanity and a harmoniousness with the environment?  Or do we want it to be known as a good investment opportunity?

This is a time to engage and provide feedback to those who want to lead this effort – organizations like vacation rentals Orcas. Let’s speak out on what we believe the problem is and brainstorm ideas for solutions. What do you think? Let’s get the conversation going here.


San Juan County Affordable Housing

Washington State Annual Homelessness Count by county by year

An Organization Has Formed To Address The Problems With Vacation Rentals

Data on San Juan Counties’ population



2 thoughts on “Is The Rise Of Vacation Rentals, AirBnB and VRBO Negatively Impacting the Residents of San Juan County, WA?

  1. Tom Baldwin says:

    I would like to know who wrote this thing. It seems that the author is not taking credit (blame?). I admit that I have not read the entire thing. I see no reason. At the beginning, we are led to believe that we will learn something of the impacts of vacation rentals on housing for islanders. What we have is a series of statements of the results of vacation rentals with no tie to housing for islanders. Demonstration of a correlation is NOT proof of causation.

    While I am VERY concerned by the housing crisis that faces too many of our fellow islanders, I feel that to have an impact, we must first try to focus on causes, not simple correlations.


  2. Michael Johnson says:

    This is a very informative article… leading to an even more informative website. Thanks for reporting this important news.

    Liked by 1 person

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