Many properties in Mission Beach are rented on a short-term basis. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

By Barbara Bry

San Diego is in the midst of a major housing crisis, and homelessness has reached record levels with no end in sight. Yet there is a continued refusal by the city administration and mayoral candidates Scott Sherman and Todd Gloria to acknowledge the obvious — the increase in short-term vacation rentals is one of the key drivers of these crises.

It is simple supply and demand economics. When existing housing stock gets utilized for short-term rentals, there are fewer places to live. When there are fewer places to live, prices go up and affordable housing becomes unattainable for lower- and middle-income families.

It makes little sense to give developers free rein to build more housing, since new units may be immediately purchased by STR speculators and investors, locking out San Diego residents who are seeking affordable housing. That is why an immediate change is needed—a law that requires all new apartments and homes, whether by discretionary or ministerial approval, be rented for at least a minimum of 30 days.

Currently, approximately 16,000 single-family homes are being used as short-term vacation rentals, as well as a growing number of newly built apartments and condominiums that were permitted as affordable units. There are 5,500 estimated unsheltered individuals in San Diego — do the math!

Economic studies reveal that the costs of short-term rentals outweigh the benefits, increasing housing costs, circumventing zoning laws, and creating more income inequality.

In 2017, the San Diego City Attorney issued a memo stating that short-term vacation rentals are illegal in residential neighborhoods under current zoning laws. In 2018, I led the effort to negotiate a compromise with Airbnb and led the City Council in passing new legislation, significantly curbing STRs. Unfortunately, Airbnb spent over $1 million to collect signatures, and the council was forced to rescind our ordinance because we did not want to subject taxpayers to an expensive election and a costly legal battle.

At that time, I asked Mayor Kevin Faulconer to enforce the existing law, but nothing happened.

Barbara Bry

Until last week, when Faulconer suddenly declared, “Given the clear violations, the city’s Development Services Department is opening code enforcement investigations and will work directly with the City Treasurer’s Office to implement changes to ensure that the municipal code continues to be enforced.” Unfortunately, Faulconer’s sudden change of heart is directed solely at new “granny flats,” which are only a small part of the problem.

My question is why? Why focus just on granny flats, especially when the City Attorney has made it clear short-term vacation rentals are illegal? Enforcement would have an immediate impact on adding homes to our housing stock, unlike efforts to construct new housing, which will take years.

And it is not just Faulconer. Sherman and Gloria talk endlessly of lessening building restrictions and encouraging developers to build more, but neither acknowledges the obvious negative effect of STRs. Sherman has repeatedly stated he is against all regulation of STRs, and Gloria has waffled back and forth regarding his stance on STRs, but as the public record shows, the major vacation rental operators in the city have contributed to his campaign.

It’s time to enforce our existing laws to make housing San Diegans a priority and to stop a multi-billion-dollar industry from taking advantage of our city.

Barbara Bry currently serves as President Pro Tem and represents District 1 on the San Diego City Council. She is also a candidate for Mayor.

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