I’ve been an avid observer of the short-term rental work group’s progress (or lack thereof) for the past six months. The town was tasked with creating a work group and took several months to make it happen. As a result of this drawn-out process, the workgroup has very little chance of developing something of substance for the upcoming annual town meeting. Which, if memory serves, was the idea all along.
Before the workgroup was even a twinkle in ATM’s eyes, I had contributed to a large body of short-term-rental research and public outreach for the group, ACK•Now. I made the decision to stop working for ACK•Now in 2021 largely because of the toxic nature of the response to the group’s efforts. Life’s too short, you know? Today, I don’t have a stake in this horserace and I am friendly with people on both sides of this issue, including the folks at ACK•Now.
It’s a little bit frustrating because many people who observe this situation, or who have been impacted negatively by it, know that there are valid reasons to regulate STRs, while some people (many who benefit from STRs) deny that anything could or should be done.
In fact, there are some people who think short-term rentals are actually good for the island and the island economy. And this may be true for a handful of people. The expanding island economy has definitely benefitted a number of fortunate islanders. And a number of very fortunate off-islanders. Yet, for others, the economy is what is wrong with the island; STRs are altering island’s economic center of gravity and are making it hard for a lot of folks to live here.
Here is a list of ten problems that STRs cause. (Feel free to reply below, disagree and debate these points; that’s what good discourse is all about.) In a future post, I will provide a list of ten things we can do to make our situation better.
- More people. Homes used for short-term rentals require more manpower than year-round rentals or owner-occupied homes. They necessitate the hiring of cleaners, pool maintenance people, landscapers, and property managers to keep each property showplace beautiful. It is estimated that every new vacation home on the island requires an additional six imported workers who all need a place to live and who add to traffic and the load on island infrastructure.
- Energy needs. STRs are more energy intensive than other residential scenarios. Central air, AC, pool heating, and more put a strain on our power grid and push us closer to needing a third undersea cable.
- Traffic and parking. The increase in vacationers on the island comes with an increase in vehicles and traffic. This taxes our 18th-century road structure causing capacity issues for the steamship authority and straining parking in both the mid-island and downtown.
- Noise. Not all noise problems are reported but the ones that are often associated with short-term rental partiers who have no respect for the neighborhoods where they rent. The problem has gotten so bad that three neighbors have seen the need to sue in Land Court to stop disruptive STRs in their neighborhoods.
- Degradation of neighborhoods. Renters of these homes have no connection to the community and don’t know their neighbors. And the same can be said for a number of homeowners who view their properties as an investment and not a home.
- School overcrowding. Many of the children of people employed to service the short-term rental industry are causing our school systems to be at capacity or over capacity. This growth has been difficult for the school district to predict and manage.
- Housing costs increase exponentially. When a home can produce a financial return that is greater than the stock market, it gains the attention of investors with big money. When big money enters our housing market, competition for property heats up and prices rise above the ability of middle-class residents to pay. Our home prices have doubled three times in the past 25 years. This is not sustainable.
- Housing shortages = worker shortages. When the cost of housing rises, and the population increases to meet the demand that Short-term rentals, housing naturally becomes harder to find. The lack of housing has caused many businesses to close or reduce their service because they cannot find housing for the people they need to hire. Affordable housing has been an issue on the island for three decades, but it was never at the crisis proportions we are seeing right now.
- Uncertainty for the next generation. Young people growing up on Nantucket can see that the economics of island life is not working in their favor. The prospects for owning a home and raising a family here are slim. Unless something changes, our year-round population will be made up of people below the poverty line and the very wealthy. Our middle-class residents will be forced off-island and many of our key jobs will be done by commuting and remote workers. We are already seeing this with many recent town hires.
- A fractured community. The short-term rental debate has pitted neighbor against neighbor. Those who need short-term rentals to make ends meet on an island where prices continue to rise feel embattled by those who want to see the island slow down and tolerate fewer cars and people. This causes people to entrench, rely on black-and-white thinking, and be less likely to find a common ground in this issue.