Divided Anchorage Assembly to vote on new requirements for short-term rentals

a sign on a building says airbnb
(Public domain photo courtesy of Open Grid Scheduler)

The hosts of an estimated 2,000 AirBnB, Vrbo and other short-term rentals in Anchorage may soon be required to get licenses from the city. A closely split Anchorage Assembly is set to vote Tuesday evening on the program.

Short-term rentals have become a boogeyman in Alaska communities where housing is expensive and hard to find. The fear is that homes that could be rented out long-term or sold to someone looking for a place to live are increasingly becoming short-term rentals instead.

“Then that means less availability of any kind of housing for them, and it means higher prices in a lot of cases,” said Nolan Klouda, executive director of University of Alaska Anchorage’s Center for Economic Development. 

Klouda has dug through a lot of housing data, and he thinks short-term rentals are partially contributing to Anchorage’s housing shortage

“So I think that over time, I’m worried about the way that short-term rentals can squeeze our housing market,” he said. 

He also said they probably get too much blame. Even though Anchorage’s population has been declining, fewer people are living together, so the market still wants more homes. And Anchorage’s homebuilding rates are extremely low.

In Juneau, which adopted a short-term rental registration program last year, an economic development nonprofit came to a similar conclusion

Danny Baldocchi from AirBnb’s policy team told the Assembly in January that there isn’t a clear connection between short-term rentals taking long-term rentals off the market. 

He said on average in 2022, AirBnB hosts in Anchorage had bookings for 60 nights. He suggested that many hosts could be locals renting out their homes while they’re away traveling. He also shared that 75% of their hosts in Anchorage have only one listing. 

But Anchorage Assembly members Meg Zaletel and Randy Sulte say they want to get better data about how many short-term rentals there are, which might lead to future regulations. They’re sponsoring the short-term rental licensing measure

If approved by the Assembly on Tuesday, it would create a schedule of fines for violations. It would also create some requirements for insurance and a local contact who can address complaints. 

Operators would have to pay $400 per unit, though the city would waive the fee for a lot of small-scale operators. For example, if they live on site or next door, if it’s a short-term rental for two weeks or less in a calendar year, or if it’s a regular, long-term rental for at least 180 days a year. The license would be good for two years. 

Zaletel said her constituents want action on short-term rentals and she thinks these requirements aren’t overly onerous. She hopes it will lead to good data about the rentals’ impact on the housing market. 

“Is it a factor? I don’t know because we’re not getting the local on the ground information to know exactly what we’re talking about,” she said. 

Ayanna Sims told the Assembly at its last meeting that when she managed to buy her multifamily home as a single mom 20 years ago, it was her American dream. She has multiple short-term rental listings and she doesn’t want the licensing program to pass. 

“I think it’s bad, and I don’t think we should be given all the fines,” Sims said. “I have my business license. I pay my taxes. I do it all.” 

Like regular hotel rooms, short-term rentals are already subject to the city’s 12% bed tax and other business requirements. 

Baldocchi with AirBnB said Anchorage’s licensing proposal was thoughtful and well put together, without prohibitive costs. 

The measure was ripe for the Assembly’s final vote at its last meeting, but the body postponed it because member Kameron Perez-Verdia was absent. Perez-Verdia’s vote could be decisive in the upcoming meeting

In addition to Anchorage and Juneau, Sitka requires permits in some parts of that city for short-term rentals. A spike in applications there led officials to limit permits to residents who live at their properties in 2022. 

And in the Alaska Legislature, Rep. Andrew Gray, a Democrat from East Anchorage, has introduced a bill to create a statewide registration requirement and limit operators to one short-term rental unit.

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at jhsieh@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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