Note: Opinions expressed in commentary on KCAW are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the station’s board, staff, or volunteers.

By Wendy Alderson

Many small destination communities across the West are dealing with housing shortages. While this is a new problem for many areas, Sitka has struggled with the housing issue for as long or longer than I’ve lived here And that is over 30 years.

Wendy Alderson is a member of Sitka’s Planning Commission.

While there are many pieces to Sitka’s housing puzzle, there is one piece I feel we could successfully address with some community input and a few reasonable code changes, and that is the Short Term Rental Conditional Use Permit requirements in residential neighborhoods.

Many communities are realizing that a proliferation of short term rentals in residential neighborhoods is making it challenging for local community members to meet their housing needs. Short Term Rentals have the potential to remove long term rentals from the rental market, drive up rents and drive up real estate prices due to LLC’s and investment companies having the financial means to pay more for investment properties than many individuals who are trying to purchase homes.

Currently there is very little criteria to be met in order to obtain a Short Term Rental Conditional Use Permit in a residential area. The property must meet health and safety standards, and must provide adequate parking. If a property meets this criteria, the Planning Commission is obligated to approve a permit. This leaves the Planning Commission with very few tools to weigh each application individually.

Sitka saw its Conditional Use Permits for Short Term Rentals double from 2017 to 2019 and while there was a lull during the Covid years it looks like the lull is over, with 8 permits approved so far this year. In a recent Short Term Rental survey 60% of respondents felt that Short Term Rentals have a negative effect on the housing market and 70% of the respondents were concerned about the number of short term rentals in Sitka.

Recently a resolution for a temporary moratorium on Short Term Rentals in residential neighborhoods was narrowly voted down by the assembly. And while the temporary moratorium didn’t pass, overwhelming discussion by assembly members pointed to a willingness to address some reasonable code changes, such as sunsetting a permit with the sale of a house, requiring a Short Term Rental be part of an applicant’s primary residence and/or setting a cap on the number of Short Term Rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Do you listeners have any ideas on how to address the growing number of short term rentals? Are you curious what other Sitkan’s think and what other communities have done to address the issue? There will be a town hall meeting and discussion on ideas about Short Term Rentals on this coming Monday, April 18th at 7:00 pm at the Centennial Building. Please come and share your thoughts.