Michigan is in the middle of a housing crisis. Too many middle-income earners are facing rents or home prices that take up far too much of their budgets. Businesses are having a hard time attracting new employees because there is not enough reasonably priced housing in their area, or the homes their employees can afford are long distances from their work.
The explosion in the popularity of short-term rental websites like VRBO and Airbnb are making the issue worse by taking single-family rental units and owner-occupied homes off the housing market. Many homes listed on these sites are not just family cottages listed a few weekends out of the year. Investors are buying up dozens of homes at a time and operating them like miniature hotels that are rented out every weekend. It’s a matter of simple economics: Fewer quality homes are available for full-time residents, which means higher prices for everyone.
Rather than help address our housing crisis, lawmakers in the State House approved legislation that threatens to take even more homes off the market and increase housing prices even higher for Michigan families. Driven by misplaced fear that communities across the state will try to outlaw short-term rentals, lawmakers approved House Bill 4277 in the darkness of night that would allow one in every three homes in a community to be turned into a vacation rental.
Their 3 a.m. vote completely overturns the careful work communities like Grand Rapids have done to ensure neighborhoods remain intact and there is a balance of housing available for permanent residents as well as visitors. Such policies include utilizing local zoning laws to limit short-term rentals to certain areas and capping the total number of short-term rentals in a community.
To be clear, not every community has the same concerns about losing single-family homes to vacation rentals. Some would welcome more. Others — especially in popular vacation destinations — do not have housing that their teachers, police officers and downtown restaurant workers can afford.
This is not to say that vacation rentals are bad. They have been a great way for homeowners to earn extra income, and they have provided new options for tourists wishing to enjoy our great state. But no two communities in this state are alike. University towns have different housing needs than rural or suburban communities. Lakefront communities have different needs than farming communities. Each one needs to be able to determine how to best fit vacation rentals into their mix of housing options in a way that is right for their own unique housing needs.
We urge our lawmakers to reject the one-size-fits-all approach passed in the State House in favor of legislation that allows for local decisions to stay local when it comes to short-term rentals.
Rosalyn Bliss is mayor of Grand Rapids and Scott McLennan is mayor of Rogers City.