Archived Opinion

The short-term rental issue is now a crisis

The short-term rental issue is now a crisis

Short term vacation rentals — and their impact on affordable housing and the tourism industry — are vexing both local and state leaders.

Literally, I could hardly pick up a newspaper last week that didn’t have front-page stories with everyone trying to figure out how to get a handle on this issue. 

It’s going to come to a head, but no one seems to know exactly what to expect.

Buying a home has always been a huge expense that many middle-income folks couldn’t afford until they found a partner and had two incomes. So yeah, real estate is expensive to buy, especially here, but the truth is it’s never been cheap. The larger problem, at least in my mind, is that locals can no longer find affordable housing, especially rentals. Those rentals allow people to save the down payment needed to buy. But now there aren’t any cheap rentals, and a huge component of that problem, without doubt, is the rapid growth of STVRs.

The headline in the July 9 Asheville Citizen Times was “Asheville Airbnb bust?” The package was really two stories, both by longtime ACT reporter Joel Burgess, one of the best journalists in the region. It examined the skyrocketing growth of short-term vacation rentals  — STVR — and how local and state leaders are reacting .

Burgess dove deep to come up with the numbers for his story, so I want to be sure to credit him. His reporting found a 1,127% increase in revenues from STVRs in Buncombe County from 2016 to 2022. The revenues rose from $18.7 million to $229 million in 2023. The number of units that are renting short term rose from 1,247 to 5,223. So, during that time — only six years — at least 4,000 houses/apartments/rooms that could have been rented to locals have been turned into vacation rentals for tourists.

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This is happening in WNC’s largest metro area even though the Asheville City Council banned STVRs in 2018, except some existing vacation rentals and for those who are just renting a room in their house. A quick search of the Airbnb website (I didn’t even check VRBO — Vacation Rental by Owner), however, found dozens of places in the city limits that apparently violate that ban. Two hours after I’m off Airbnb, I’m getting emails showing me places to rent in the Asheville city limits.

It’s obviously not just Buncombe County in this boat. A March report released by Airbnb reported total volume sales in 2022 for the 70 counties in North Carolina that are considered rural. Here’s the numbers for our region, which amount to staggering dollar figures: Haywood County had $19.79 million in Airbnb sales in 2022; Jackson had $11.16 million; Macon had $11.76 million; and Swain County, with a population of just over 14,000, had $16.27 million in Airbnb revenue.

Those headlines I was speaking of earlier? In The Smoky Mountain Times, Swain County’s weekly newspaper, the July 6 issue had this on the front page: “Airbnb’s decline comes as long-term rentals are still hard to find.”  The story by Larry Grifffin reported on a study released a couple weeks ago that warned of a collapse in the Airbnb market. It also reported on a social media post by the human resources director of Swain County Schools asking for help in finding housing for new teaching hires.

From Griffin’s story: “There is an abundance of short-term rentals in Swain County, however, long-term rentals, and rentals that accept pets, have proven to be harder to acquire. Rental availability is an issue for all ‘working class’ people looking to relocate to Swain County,” Tommy Dills, schools human resource director, said in an email.

Over in Macon County in the July 5 issue of The Franklin Press, the headline was “Task Force talks about housing issues in Macon.” Reporter Thomas Sherrill’s story revealed many veterans in Macon are having a difficult time finding affordable rental housing, and recovering addicts from a program in the county are almost four times as likely to relapse if they don’t have housing. A local real estate agent, Evan Harrell, said the number he’s heard is that there are 1,150 short-term rentals in Macon County.

That study by Reventure Consulting  that says Airbnb revenues are slowing also predicts that the slowdown might lead to a massive sell off of houses that could develop into a situation comparable to the real estate collapse of 2008. All those who took out low-interest loans to invest in short-term rentals may not have the financial savings to withstand lower-than-anticipated revenues.

It’s coming to a head, this massive growth in STVRs that has also been the catalyst for the huge problem we’re having with affordable housing. I’m no economist, but when working people can’t afford to buy and can’t even find a place to rent, something’s got to give. I’ll keep following this issue, so stay tuned.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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