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How are Bayfield vacation rentals impacting housing availability, expenses?

Concerns linger over the effect properties are having on homes
Concerns about vacation rentals in Bayfield, seen here on June 20, relate to an already tight housing market potentially being squeezed further. Some are adamant that it’s leading to not only rising rent and mortgage costs, but also rising expenses such as energy bills. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Although Bayfield’s seven vacation rentals are meant to help provide an extra economic jolt, some are concerned about the short-term fallout.

Much of that sentiment relates to an already tight housing market potentially being squeezed further, with some adamant that it’s leading to not only rising rent and mortgage costs, but also rising expenses such as energy bills.

Pam Willhoite, executive director for the Bayfield nonprofit Pine River Shares, said a number of residents are already paying more for rent and energy bills.

She said some residents may end up leaving the area because of rising rent costs and the number of spaces becoming Airbnb properties.

“It’s very, very sad,” she said, adding there was a couple who had lived in Bayfield for 40 years but had to leave because their property was set to become a rental.

La Plata Regional Housing Alliance Board Chairman Pat Vaughn said if there’s a higher number of short-term rentals, the housing pool pushes up prices.

“That’s just kind of a mathematical reality,” he said. “In a place like La Plata County, there are quite a few short-term rentals. And as you well know, housing’s an issue here for workers. … It’s a supply and demand issue. … (Short-term rentals) are generally houses, and sometimes larger houses that don’t directly compete with, say, apartments. … There’s more demand than there is supply, so that pushes prices up.”

Bayfield Town Manager Katie Sickles said in an email to The Durango Herald that she has not been contacted by residents who may have expressed concern about vacation rentals contributing to rising rent and mortgage costs, nor has anyone brought higher bills to her attention.

The effects

La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka, whose district includes Bayfield, believes places like the Pine River Commons townhomes complex can help with housing availability in the long run.

However, there are concerns it won’t help address the shorter-term implications brought on by vacation rentals.

Salka said the more immediate concern he’s hearing is that rentals would increase the number of “tourism locations” in town and subsequently increase property values for those looking to rent a home.

He said another concern from residents is that rental properties that have previously served in that role could lead to short-term rentals dominating the market.

“As you know, the property values have increased significantly. … That would be the major concern for myself, making sure that families can afford something and be able to stay here, not have to move elsewhere,” he said.

Vaughn said the number of short-term rentals countywide outnumbers the city of Durango by a ratio of nearly 9-to-1. He said there aren’t as many neighborhood subdivisions throughout the county relative to just Durango, adding it “probably does drive up the cost of housing in the county.”

What’s being done?

Although the town doesn’t have any rent and mortgage assistance programs, Sickles said that “All LEAP eligible Town utility customers can obtain 25% off coupons for all Town utility base rates for 2024 called the Utility Relief Program.”

“The Town has provided this program for the last 4-years and the Board of Trustees have the authority to extend on an annual basis,” she said in the email.

The town of Bayfield is currently developing housing complexes such as Pine River Commons and Mustang Crossing to help alleviate the ongoing shortage.

The town is actively working with the RHA to work toward short- and long-term solutions, according to Sickles.

Although Pine River Shares currently doesn’t have a housing or rental assistance program, it does assist those who need help paying their energy bills or are struggling to pay for food.

Pine River Shares gives out about $25,000 per year in energy bill assistance payments, Willhoite said.

A person can be eligible to receive up to $1,000 in yearly assistance to pay bills on two different energy sources with the program, and Pine River Shares works to get people signed up for the state’s Low-income Energy Assistance Program. However, Pine River Shares tries to keep that allocation to $500 apiece in order to help more people.

“The cost of everything is going up, but incomes aren’t going up,” Willhoite said, adding that Pine River Shares is feeding about 20% of the Pine River Valley. “If they can’t pay the rent, they can’t pay their energy bill.”

In the near-term, Salka said the Board of County Commissioners plans to discuss a measure to reallocate the county’s lodgers tax.

If it’s approved, he said that reallocated tax could potentially go toward helping residents pay their rent or mortgage, or be directed to organizations such as Housing Solutions for the Southwest for rental assistance.

Salka said he hopes Bayfield can explore opportunities to where vacation rentals won’t exceed rentals for families.

Down the road, he said he is hopeful that the new housing developments and Bayfield’s cap on vacation rentals (30) will offset lingering concerns.


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