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How Do Short-Term Rentals Help the Attainable Housing Crisis? By Sharon Gillespie, Ivins UT

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Here are just a few of the article titles written on the housing situation in the St George area.

“St George Grappling with Housing Shortage”

“Increased Housing Costs Weigh on Southern Utahns”

“There is nowhere to go”: Panel discusses attainable housing needs in Washington County.

So how do Short Term Rentals help this problem?


I recently attended the HAC (Housing Action Coalition) Forum and Expo: Meeting the Attainable Housing Challenge. Their mission is to “create attainable housing for all Washington County residents.” They define attainable as “housing that is safe, affordable housing for all ages and income levels.” A panel discussion covered one of the topics: "I’d love to work for you, but I don’t have a place to live.” This is often heard by employers in the area.

Yet, developers continue to build and want to build more Short-Term Rentals.

There are significant and disconcerting facts and data that show the negative effect of tourist Short Term Rentals on the long-term rental market. Decreasing availability and increasing cost. The result is now that long-term rentals in apartments, townhouses and houses are in short supply and the rates are often outside the reach financially of many that need them. Additionally, the data shows that they drive up the cost of homes, driving them above the attainable market.

The developers have coined a new term called Horizontal Hotels to make them sound classier and more palatable than your typical Airbnb or similar. Where I come from, we call this putting lipstick on a pig.

Here is a small sampling of the data:

  • Washington County Commission cited a statistic that every 10% increase in Short-Term Rentals in a local area leads to a 42% increase in rents. (The Spectrum 10/6/2021)

  • WA county has the third largest number of STRs in the state representing 14.9% of the total 2021 listings. STRs in WA County are estimated at 5,552 making up 3.4% of Washington County’s housing stock. The top 5 cities in Utah for STR listings include St George. St George has 976 STRs in 2021 the 4th highest. Listings increased by 14% from 2020 to 2021 (Kem Gardner Policy)

  • Kem Gardner Policy Institute: “Academic research indicates a relationship with increasing Short-Term Rentals supply leading to a decrease in affordability and housing options as supply is occupied by visitors rather than full-time residents.”

  • Short-Term rentals offer unfair economic advantages to local hotels in two distinct ways: 1) STRs don’t have to pay for staff and are not regulated like hotels which increase costs.2) This allows STRs to offer lower rates and are a threat to the hotel industry. (Granicus)

This data also shows there is an overabundance of Short-Term Rentals in the St George Area. They are affecting long-term rental prices and availability, they are affecting housing shortages and prices, and they are affecting hotel occupancy.

Surprisingly, no representative from the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) participated in the recent HAC Conference. SITLA owns a significant amount of land in Utah and in our area.

Our teachers are just one of the groups challenged with finding attainable housing. SITLA instead is building short-term rentals and not just here in the St. George area. SITLA has built Short Term Rentals all over the state including Moab and Kanab.

SITLA does provide value to our educational system through the revenue they generate from the sale of the land, but why not carve out a portion for attainable housing, especially for the teachers that actually do the educating as one example to help our housing situation versus just making a profit? One would think investing in our teachers would prove to be profitable in terms of attracting and retaining highly talented educators.

Now, I am not claiming that SITLA is solely responsible for creating attainable housing for Utah but being a government institution should they be building Short-Term Rentals when there are other options that can support the needs of teachers, first responders and others that serve our communities? Shouldn’t they set an example? Are we going to continue to put profit over people?

And why is the state of Utah that is now saying they may intervene in cities to affect the building, as they state in a recent article, not having conversations with SITLA?

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