Editorial: Making progress on vacation rentals – Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Posted: October 7, 2021 at 3:38 pm

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Short-term vacation rentals are a valuable alternative for visitors, allowing them spacious, homey accommodations, often outside crowded tourist meccas.

But they take badly needed homes off the rental market.

But they provide income for local residents who have space to spare, and otherwise bolster the economy.

But they can disrupt neighborhoods if not handled well, and often theyre owned not by moms and pops, but by absent corporations.

If we hold these competing truths to be (mostly) self-evident, its easy to appreciate why the issue is so divisive. Many of us use Airbnb or Vrbo when we travel, preferring the experience to a hotel. Maybe we like having a kitchen, maybe we travel in a pack and need space to be together the reasons are myriad. Here in our backyard, though, our fondness diminishes.

For years, the players in Hawaii, from the hotel industry to the government to the would-be providers, have been wrestling with how many vacation rentals to allow in what areas, and how to deal with the illegal ones doing business on the fringes. The issue is front and center again now that the Honolulu Planning Commission has recommended rules requiring a minimum stay of 180 days versus the 30 days specified in a 2019 Caldwell administration ordinance.

The 180-day threshold essentially six months would apply in residential areas, and these short-term rental properties would be capped at existing numbers. Exceptions by special permit would allow shorter rentals for temporary employees at health care facilities, full-time students or remote workers, military personnel and homeowners in transition.

Those on the vacation-rental side thought they had a deal they could live with not only a 30-day policy, but also an allowance for a limited number of new rentals. They have a right to their ire. Ordinance 19-18 was never fully implemented, however, and the Blangiardi administration says it is unenforceable.

Thus the change, designed by the city Department of Planning and Permitting with the intent of weeding out illegal operators. The rules also up the tax burden on these properties to help fund enforcement. Now that the Planning Commission has accepted them, the rules go to the City Council, which would need a supermajority of six votes instead of five to override the commission.

Overall, the change is a reasonable approach to a knotty problem being faced by cities from New York to Los Angeles, even in Airbnbs birthplace of San Francisco. The overriding need in our backyard has to be rental housing for local residents, not vacation housing for visitors, and if private concerns cant balance this out, the city has to set painful restrictions. Thats another truth, if a difficult one.

A major unresolved component of this conflict: The Planning Commission declined to weigh in on guidelines for resort areas such as Kuilima, Ko Olina, Waikiki and Makaha. This creates a limbo that the City Council and the Department of Planning and Permitting will have to straighten out.

It is prudent to treat these areas differently. A lessening of the 180-day threshold would be appropriate for such resort areas with the infrastructure to handle a transient community, and where vacation rentals would be viable alternatives to hotels.

The caution, of course, is that resort areas do encompass residential homes, some owned by families, some occupied by renters whove been there for years. While a number might like to take advantage of hosting a vacation rental, others might fear for their peace and quiet.

Another truth, another need for tough, painful decision-making, now left for another day.

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Editorial: Making progress on vacation rentals - Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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