Many supporters of vacation rentals, especially those who came forward at the 18 June council hearing,* spoke to their personal experiences as vacation rental owners. First, it boggles one’s mind that so many property owners openly admit in front of council that they have been violating Bellingham’s laws prohibiting such rentals. Over 300 vacation rentals operate illegally within the city limits. At the same time, these owners plead to the council that they be allowed to continue as before with an ordinance that would legalize their present scofflaw behavior. Their sense of entitlement is appalling. The phrase “unmitigated gall” comes to mind.
Their testimony of personal experience is entirely anecdotal and self-serving. Claims that this city should have a vacation rental ordinance that would help homeowners remain in their homes by providing additional income are unverified. Nobody has a scintilla of direct evidence thatof these properties are used to support families who might otherwise be on the street were it not for the income. The fact is, we have no idea who these vacation rental property owners are, their reason for renting to vacationers rather than locals, or the number of rentals each property owner or corporation possesses.
Without a total inventory of these vacation dwellings, including names of each party - corporate or otherwise - we have no idea what we are talking about. We have no way to evaluate the claims of those who come forward pleading economic necessity. We cannot determine the extent of problems regarding the geographical concentration of these units, or absentee ownership, or business ownership solely for profit.
The council should return to square one and reject the planning commission’s ill-advised draft ordinance permitting vacation rentals at the expense of year round housing. A moratorium on vacation rentals should be declared immediately. Yes - shut down these illegal and un-inspected units while a serious city-wide discussion is carried out regarding the advisability of allowing the commercialization of neighborhoods and the use of our housing stock for transients rather than our own citizens. If you want to run a bed and breakfast establishment (BMC 10.16.020 Conditional Uses), there is an existing process.
Those council members who voted to allow detached accessory dwelling units city wide are now squirming with their knickers in a wad as they try to reconcile their insistence on creating housing for residents, while simultaneously trying to allow vacation rentals that remove housing stock from the inventory. Finally, as called out during the 18 January hearing by a city resident, council members Hammill and Barker should recuse themselves from all discussions of rental issues given that each is a landlord who stands to gain financially from ordinances regarding their use.
*The portion on vacation rentals is at 1.08.00 on the video counter. The mayor speaks at 1.19.45 saying she cannot support this ordinance as written but would support “the Portland model” essentially renting a room in one’s own house. The hearing comments begin shortly after the mayor speaks.