When misery loves company: housing prices and short term rental woes

September 29, 2022 3:59 pm
Single family home or short term rental? (Photo: John Partipilo)

Single family home or short term rental? (Photo: John Partipilo)

For those of us who focus our time and attention on state news coverage, be it through news sites or social media, it’s easy to feel like Tennessee has unique problems.

Of course, we do, as every state has issues unique to it. But to quote “Human Family,” written by the late Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

A couple of weeks ago, I joined my colleagues for the biannual meeting of editors for States Newsroom’s 29 (and soon to be 31) outlets. The conference is a rare opportunity to gather with folks who have the same job as I do, and we share our experiences including regular workday hassles to the issues that dominate our coverage. 

And while I enjoy the former portion greatly, it’s the latter that is particularly interesting, for it is then I can see the similarities on the issues Tennessee has in common with other states.

Tennesseans, and particularly Nashvillians, complain about the price of housing and the lack of affordable housing and with good reason: A July report showed Nashville is the 17th most expensive rental market in the nation with the price to rent a one-bedroom apartment averaging about $1,700 per month. 

And in August, the median home price in Davidson County was $484,000, trending upwards over the last year by 22%. 

Housing disparities in an East Nashville neighborhood. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Housing disparities in an East Nashville neighborhood. (Photo: John Partipilo)

That’s a pretty stout increase, but we could have it worse. Darrell Ehrlick, editor of our sibling outlet in Montana, reported that the median price of a single-family home in Bozeman is $871,500 — and is expected to top $1 million this year. In Missoula, a city with a population of roughly 75,000, median home prices are around $535,000. 

Who would have thought it? But the conversation I had with about 15 other editors made clear that not only are exorbitant housing costs problematic but that the investments of real estate trusts into short term rental properties — one factor in rising rental prices — isn’t just a Music City problem. 

In July, the Maine Beacon reported the November ballot has an initiative that, if it passes, will reduce the number of short term rental properties. Organizers say that 2% of Portland’s available housing stock, or 400 units, are short-term rental properties. As in other cities, like Nashville, the reduction to long-term rental stock increases market pressures to raise rent — and sometimes evict tenants. 

A similar measure failed in 2020, but residents of Jersey City, N.J., gained a better outcome in a 2019 referendum, preserving restrictions on STRs despite Airbnb spending more than $3 million to promote their cause. 

Clearly, there’s big money in STRs and there’s evidence to show the promulgation of them hurts prospects for long-term and affordable housing. 

“We know we will be massively outspent, as were in 2020, but we also know the voters understand what is at stake,” said Sarah Loudon, vice chair of Maine’s campaign to reduce STRs. 

Nashville’s Metro Council voted for a ban on some STRs in 2019, but the Tennessee General Assembly considered a 2022 bill to prevent local governments from passing guidelines on the properties. 

In March, an investigation by Phil Williams with Nashville’s News Channel 5 connected the dots between Tennessee lawmakers and Airbnb, showing the short-term rental giant has given $40,000 to a Capitol Hill lobbying firm operated by former legislators that acts as a middleman, distributing the money to almost two dozen lawmakers. 

As our group of editors discussed the problems our states face with housing, we found no solutions. But sometimes, misery really does love company.

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.