Proposed restrictions to short-term rental units in Buncombe County prompted dozens of residents to share their perspectives about the impact of short-term rentals on their neighborhoods and their lives at a meeting Monday evening.
Some residents said being able to rent out all or part of their property through “short-term rental,” or any 30-day stay or less listed on sites like Airbnb or VRBO, was an economic lifeline during times of hardship.
Buncombe County resident Candice Boehm told the crowd of several hundred people that she has lived in the area for more than 40 years.
She worked as a nurse until she was forced to quit her job because of an injury sustained in a car accident, she said.
“To be able to stay in my current home, I started renting out rooms in my house,” Boehm said. “I currently have 303 reviews. I am a Superhost. And most of my renters that come are people that are coming from all over the country.”
Demand from people moving to Buncombe County from elsewhere has “driven up the cost of housing and the shortage, not short-term vacation rentals,” she added.
The board is considering allowing new short-term rentals only in commercial districts. The proposed rules would also impose a maximum on the total square-footage of each short-term rental and would prohibit such rentals in manufactured home parks and affordable housing developments, among other restrictions.
Not everyone at the meeting opposed the restrictions, which would limit short-term rentals to certain locations and housing types. Supporters of the measure said short-term rentals had turned their neighborhoods into less tight-knit communities or had contributed to gentrification.
Hermelinda Miller said she has lived in Buncombe County for two decades and has seen an increase of short-term rentals in her neighborhood in Emma, a small community west of downtown Asheville.
“We are against the increase because of the displacement of families and the loss of affordable housing that it causes,” Miller said through an interpreter. “I have seen directly how this impacts our community. Thank you so much for the county for your proposal.”
The listening session was part of a special meeting of the Buncombe County Planning Board that was scheduled in light of the overwhelming public response to a previous session last month.
‘There’s pain all around here’
The board’s decision would only affect unincorporated parts of Buncombe County, so it would not apply to the City of Asheville or other municipalities. Asheville currently allows “homestays,” or rentals of one or two bedrooms in an owner-occupied unit, but short-term rentals of an entire home are tightly limited and are only allowed in certain parts of the city.
Buncombe County, by contrast, currently allows short-term rentals in most districts except for an area near the Asheville Regional Airport.
DeAnthony Hill has lived in Buncombe County for five years and grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he said he developed an appreciation for the significant impact of tourism on families and people’s livelihoods.
He asked the planning board to “slow down” and invite industry experts to review data on the potential impact of the move.
“I’m against the restrictions, but I agree that there needs to be something that needs to be solved,” he said. “This is going to set a precedent for the entire state as everybody looks at this area within the short-term rental space. And if it’s done correctly, it’ll set that standard, a high-level and great standard across the state.”
Dede Styles, who has lived in Buncombe County for 77 years, voiced concern that short-term rentals “fragment the neighborhood” and also contribute to the dearth of affordable housing, both for individuals purchasing a new home and senior citizens like herself who are living on a fixed income.
“One way short-term rentals affect the affordable housing market is that as more houses are placed in the short-term rental market, the availability of houses for long-term rental or purchase are tightened,” she said.
“When the market tightens, prices go up. Now houses that were affordable are no longer affordable. And when prices go up, property values go up, and that raises property taxes. Now the affordable homes people are already living in are not so affordable anymore.”
In at-times emotional testimony, members of the public shared how short-term rentals had driven them out of their own homes.
One resident who gave only his first name, Stephen, said he lives in a camper trailer in Buncombe County but will be forced to look for new housing soon.
“My lease started in November and ends in March,” he said. “The reason that it ends in March is because it will become a short-term rental. I’m losing my housing because of a short-term rental. I’m your data, people.”
He said he feels “the pain for the people who have done long-term planning to put this into their retirement,” but added: “What I ask you to do is feel my pain as well. There’s pain all around here.”
Any changes to the regulations would need to be approved by the Buncombe County Commission. The planning board also noted that the changes would not apply to currently-existing short-term rentals, so long as the owners of those rentals apply for a permit and rent out the unit for at least two nights every 180 days.
The planning board will hold additional sessions in February and is encouraging members of the public to submit comment via e-mail to [email protected].