Your Views for February 17

Support for Bill 108

The new short-term vacation rental Bill 108 is being delayed. This is understandable, purely from a political process point of view. But if the bill gets pulled, our neighborhoods are left with no protections!

There are roughly 4,500 listings today on the Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway websites for our island. At the current growth rate, there will be 10,000 short-term rentals next year.

Can we even imagine what 10,000 listings will do to our communities, to rents, to our beaches?

Our most precious neighborhoods, once fairly peaceful with little traffic — just simple family homes and public parks — are being flooded with rental cars. It seems every open lot is being hunted by hungry real estate investors wanting to be part of the boom. How do we balance that with the protection of our spectacular, unspoiled landscape and traditional lifestyle?

Seventy percent of short-term vacation rentals listed for our island are for entire houses, rooms or cabins. Airbnb began as a way for people to garner extra income by renting out their home when they take a family vacation or go out of town on business. Now, semi-legal hotel operators have bastardized the system by buying entire blocks of residential neighborhoods and renting them through Airbnb or VRBO as if they are hotel suites.

Enter Keaukaha, our own precious shoreline. Have you noticed that all the beach houses around Richardson Ocean Park recently have rental cars in front of them? Have you seen the three-story, many-room building going up right next to the shoreline? Do you know that the builder of that dwelling lives off island and rents four entire houses right next to it?

It’s time for us to regulate these commercially minded landlords exploiting online booking websites. At the same time, we should support those who simply share out an extra room part of the year.

No improvement is possible without trying to separate short-term rentals that are OK from those that are not. Someone will call that discrimination. So be it. We can’t back down for that reason alone.

Bill 108 is the best thing we have to put a bandage on the problem and stop the bleeding. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater!

Stefan Buchta

Leleiwi Beach Association, Hilo