As ACL Fest considers extending their festival to two weekends and SXSW shows no signs of slowing down its growth, the question looms of where to house the thousands of vacationing nomads that stay in the city for weeks at a time.
Ever since Austin became a destination vacation spot (back in the "good ol' days"), homeowners with more than one property have been renting out their extra abodes to the visitors of our strange land. But over the past two years, a growing contingency of Austin's permanent residents have grown dissatisfied with this constant flux of short term rentals (STRs) populating their neighborhoods.
Fears and suspicions have surfaced and compounded that STRs invite copious unwanted commercial activity into an otherwise peaceful neighborhood and negatively affect the quality of life for its full-time residents. Likewise, some believe that STR houses invite crime, prompt school closures and lower property values.
The Austin area grassroots group Protect Our Neighborhoods even spent a Saturday afternoon in July standing outside the downtown offices of HomeAway, the leading online marketplace of vacation rentals, calling for an end STRs in Austin altogether. They would seek to make vacation homes illegal within the city limits.
Over the past year, Austin City Council has been bombarded with an increasing amount of questions and complaints about short term rentals, raised by incredibly vocal homeowners from a few Austin neighborhoods in particular.
After a year of committed investigation into the matter of STRs in the city, Councilmember Chris Riley drafted a new city ordinance to address these concerns that was presented in June of this year. The ordinance initially passed with a 5-2 vote, and the final reading to set the ordinance into effect is set for the Aug 2 Austin City Council meeting.
Specifically interested in the passing of the ordinance is the Austin-based company HomeAway, which lists over 735,000 homes in 160 countries on their site. Austin, unsurprisingly, boasts one of the fastest growing rates of short term rentals in all of their destination cities and also serves as the headquarters for the company.
HomeAway co-founder Carl Shepherd has served as the company's primary strategist, working hard these past two years to replace homeowners' fears (like the ones above) with ample statistical evidence to prove otherwise.
With the support of the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR), HomeAway has helped illuminate which of the "STR Myths" are largely based on unfounded "what if"s and shown how over-regulation or banning of STRs will likely only promote noncompliance.
"Our efforts have never been about what's best for HomeAway," Shepherd said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We want to help the homeowners who are looking to rent their vacation homes as well as accommodate the travelers coming to Austin. We definitely want what makes the most sense for Austin, and that includes welcoming its visitors."
The HomeAway team agrees entirely with Riley's ordinance that a clearer definition of what defines a short term rental needed to be agreed upon by the city and its homeowners. Secondly, they agree that landlords should have to register with the city as STR homeowners so that their intentions are known and can be rightfully taxed as such.
But the most important item in Councilman Riley's ordinance for Shepherd and his team is the "3 percent cap," which limits the number of STRs in any given neighborhood to a miniscule three percent of the total number of homes. This cap dispels the myth that a number of short term rentals can or will ever ruin a neighborhood's infrastructure.
Interestingly, according to a poll done by ABoR at the beginning of July, 83 percent of Austin homeowners felt that Councilmember Riley's "3 percent cap" was "about right" or "too harsh." Apparently, it is only a small minority of Austinites that dislikes or prefers to ban STRs.
Because opinions have been so diverse on this topic, Shepherd realizes the new ordinance won't satisfy everyone. "But Councilmember Riley has truly listened to all of the voices involved, and the ordinance fits Austin. It's enforceable, it's fair and it's easily defined, and those are the most important things we need."
All Austinites are welcome and encouraged to attend the City Council Meeting takes place Thursday, Aug 2 at Austin City Hall.