Looking nervously to the north at Lincoln City’s continued community dissension over the spread and problems with vacation rentals homes (VRDs), the Newport City Council has decided to take a more proactive approach in trying to ensure such a community upheaval doesn’t befall their own town.
Newport city councilors heard a report from councilor Wendy Engler that the issue goes beyond short term rentals intruding on what was previously close knit neighborhoods. Engler said that uncontrolled growth of vacation rentals accelerate the decline in affordable housing by removing a substantial amount of thatnhousing stock for tourism service employees. When rents soar, such employees are pushed out of the communities in which they have lived and worked for years.
Several councilors wondered if Newport really has such a problem and asked Community Development Director Derrick Tokos to work up some data on VRD trends and indicate any troublesome patterns. Engler said from her personal knowledge it’s certainly happening in the Nye Beach area. Several Newport residents also testified that it’s beginning to happen in their neighborhoods too. One resident complained that during the summer the place is overflowing with people – but for the other three seasons it’s like a ghost town. VRD investors say to make money with VRDs requires only three or four months of strong rentals to turn a profit for the whole yeqr – including making the mortgage payments. VRDs are very lucrative.
Councilor Dean Sawyer said that Newport Police department usually handles complaints from neighbors of VRDs – about noise, trash and carelessly parked cars. But if the number of VRDs steadily grow, the level of police response to such complaints may not be adequate. if Newport grows its VRD base. Lincoln City has three or four times the VRDs that Newport has and neighbors up there complain that many calls for service go unanswered because police are too busy fighting crime to settle disputes over problem VRD renters.
Right now Newport doesn’t have many restrictions on where VRDs can be established. They’re allowed just about everywhere. Several city councilors looked visibly uncomfortable with that and asked City Manager Spencer Nebel to investigate possible options for better controlling where VRDs are allowed to crop up.
City Councilor Mark Saelens, a long time Newport resident said he was pleased that Councilor Engler brought the issue up because if the city waits until the problem becomes too big, it may be too late to find a fix that pleases anyone. Councilor Ralph Busby chimed in saying that he lived in a tourist town in New Jersey. He said he learned that you can have a city with real neighborhoods or a tourist town teeming with visitors. But you can’t have both.
In the case of Lincoln City, the growth in VRDs exploded over a 5 to 10 year period with hundreds of new VRDs popping up all over. A myriad of new VRD owners invested millions of dollars in homes that technically didn’t meet VRD requirements, and that many owners, possibly due to a lack of adequate city code enforcement, simply never applied for a VRD permit. The honor system clearly didn’t work.
Lincoln City is now working on a plan that looks like housing west of Highway 101 will be considered okay for VRDs while areas east of 101 are expected to remain largely “regular” neighborhoods – although VRDs have been popping up on that side of 101 as well.
Against this backdrop of rapidly growing numbers of VRDs in Lincoln City, the effect on affordable housing has been devastating for many work force families. It’s pushing middle to lower income workers far out of town, lengthening commutes. It’s also making it hard for businesses and government agencies to find workers that can afford to live in Lincoln City. For some, even to afford the gas for the long commutes to work.
City Councilor Dean Sawyer was quick to point out that Newport is not Lincoln City and that the same scenario may not play out in Newport. Others agreed that Newport has other industries like fishing and oceanographic research to round out the economy. But, none the less, the council decided to task Mr. Nebel with assembling as much data as he can, between now and the next city council meeting, and to establish a plan to consider enacting a moratorium on any new VRDs being added to the 180 or so that are already operating in the city – at least until the council can come up with a better strategy on controlling their numbers and locations. Current rules pretty much allows anyone to operate a VRD in just about any part of Newport. And many are concerned, with the opening of the new section of Highway 20 to the Valley, Newport could see a sizeable jump in regional tourism and therefore an acceleration of new VRD applications.
Councilor Saelens remarked, “You don’t want to wait too long to get a handle on this, because if you wait too long it’ll just become a big mess.”