Affordable housing concerns prompt Juneau Assembly to take stock of short-term rental market

A sign with the Airbnb logo.
(Public domain photo courtesy of Open Grid Scheduler)

If you browse websites like Airbnb and Vrbo for overnight rentals in Juneau, there are dozens and dozens of listings. Many have only a handful of reviews or none at all, suggesting they only recently went on the market as vacation rentals.

City officials are concerned these listings may be eating into Juneau’s already very limited housing stock.

On Monday, the Juneau Assembly approved spending $20,000 to hire a third-party firm to collect data about this market.

“We think of those third-party services principally as reconnaissance,” City Finance Director Jeff Rogers said during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting last month. “They’re snooping, crawling the web, looking at rentals, trying to see how often those rentals are rented, what the approximate rates are. There’s some work that most of those companies do on the backend to line up a rental listing with a parcel and potentially with an owner.”

In the latest business climate survey commissioned by the Southeast Conference, business leaders in the region identified a lack of affordable housing as the top barrier to economic growth. It directly contributes to labor shortages.

The Assembly has also been considering mandating that operators of short-term rentals register their properties with the city. Together, these may be early steps the Assembly is taking toward limiting Airbnbs and similar rentals.

Assembly member Wade Bryson thinks the flurry of new short-term rental listings may be a temporary blip, caused by this weekend’s Ironman Alaska event.

“I think waiting till after Ironman will give us a better understanding of what the community is really going to be like,” he said. “Do people like this? Is it going to be a true problem that just continues to grow? Or do people really be like, ‘Oh my God, that wasn’t as great as I thought. It’s not awesome to bring a stranger into your personal home and let them use your stuff for a week.’”

Bryson urged patience.

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Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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