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Concerned about VRBOs

| May 18, 2022 7:20 AM

Our family owns a home and lives in the Wildcat Estate subdivision. 

This is a very small subdivision with a short (essentially) one-way street. It was developed in the mid-2000s by Cahoon Enterprises LLC as a “high quality private single-family residential environment” (according to the CCRs). In the definitions on page 3, these CCRs define single-family as “a group of one or more persons related by blood or marriage.”

These same CCRs restrict all private single-family residences so that “no single structure shall be altered to provide residence for more than one family.” These Covenants are to run an initial 30 years with 10-year extensions.

Clearly Mr. Cahoon envisioned a quiet, residential community – which is why we purchased directly from him.   

Since our purchase in January of 2018, we have seen a steady and constant shift between “homeowner” and “renter” occupancy. Recently three of our 30 townhouses have either been granted or applied for “short-term rental” status under the city’s conditional use process. These actions have had a negative and ongoing impact on the single-family residential character of our neighborhood and numerous homeowners have written in opposition. Yet, without additional conditions or any public review/hearing before the Board of Adjustment (as required by 18.210.110 (D)) the Zoning Administrator has been granting approval without apparent concern for the quality of our neighborhood or concerns and issues raised by homeowners (e.g., increased traffic, noise, congestion and demand for public services, etc.) and/or the binding provisions of our subdivision CCRs. 

 We fully recognize the exorbitant economic value of operating short-term rentals (with between three and 10 times the financial return of a long-term rental), but these are not elderly, fixed income homeowners like ourselves who need extra cash to pay bills and maintain their property — these are doctors, nurses and well compensated professionals who are only purchasing because they see a market opportunity to make additional monthly income (and often force out long-time rental families who can’t financially compete). Even our long-term rental landlords and property managers have privately stated their opposition to the dramatic rise in short-term rentals. We are not witnessing the building of a vibrant homeowner community but rather a transient, often party environment. The short-term gains of a few should not overshadow the long-term investments and sense of place of the majority. 

Today VRBO and AirBNB report upwards of 500 short-term rentals in the greater Columbia Falls area (and that’s not counting the likely dozens if not hundreds of others who advertise privately or through a property management company – such as Meadow Lake and like multifamily housing projects). With this pace of rental conversions and only expensive new residential development, where are single people, average couples and young families supposed to find safe, decent and affordable housing? One Councilmember has even had to purchase an adjoining property to address the housing crisis their business is experiencing! Our son who earns $16 per hour (with no benefits) has to often work one full-time and one part-time (nights/weekends) job and lives with two other people to afford their $2,600 per month single-family home just outside city limits. This means that with rent and utilities he’s paying nearly 44% of his monthly take-home income toward housing when U.S. HUD recommends only 30% (which leaves nothing for an emergency car repair or medical bill that could threaten his employment, etc.). With these wages and such a high cost of housing he will likely never be able to become a homeowner, gain equity and build wealth like most of us did to gain middle-class status. That’s shameful.

Therefore, we kindly request that the Mayor and/or Council direct city staff to conduct a comprehensive review and analysis of Columbia Falls rental housing market with findings and policy recommendations to hopefully adjust and reinstitute greater balance between the short and long-term rental housing markets. 

Connie Copeland 

Patrick Malone 

Columbia Falls

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