To the editor: I woke up easily the past few days. Though my children play musical beds much like every night, I have slept soundly and woken early. This rest comes from knowing that the town’s voters exhibited a tremendous sense of cool-headedness when seeing through the strong emotions surrounded by Article 60.
On Saturday evening, I texted an old friend who had made an impassioned speech in favor of Article 60 with regard to housing. We've known each other for a very, very long time. I always feel safe talking with this person, and two points were successfully traded between us. Mine was that the housing problem and short-term rentals have been linked vis a vis an evil Boogeyman: "the corporate investor." This mischaracterization has offended many who own traditional short-term rentals. My friend agreed, and countered that strong words must be used to light a fire underneath the town to address housing. I agreed, though not with the method. We ended our conversation on a promise to discuss solutions between us, a housing advocate and myself, a real estate professional.
Our language, and the truth behind it, matters. To that end I want to restate the data: today 2.2% of all short-term rentals are owned by non-natural persons, AKA corporations. The rest are owned by locals and seasonal homeowners alike. Three separate sets of data all tell a similar story: There are very few corporations vs. natural owners, most natural owners are seasonal residents, and most rentals are less than two weeks long. The data sources are Process First, Nantucket Association of Real Estate Brokers, and UMass.
This is why I got up to speak at the town meeting, there is no corporate influence behind me. At this point I'm a policy nerd who unfortunately knows too much about the short-term rental market. My desire is to protect an age-old Nantucket tradition of providing vacation accommodation in homes rather than hotels.
Mischaracterizing every short-term rental owner as a loud nuisance, a corporate money hungry investor, or faceless timeshare is irresponsible and unproductive to the discussion. It is also dangerously similar to other prejudice we are seeing in our society - using one "bad guy" to define an entire group of people. I invite those who voted for Article 60 to rethink their definitions of who actually owns short-term rentals.
I voted against Article 60, but am strongly in favor of limiting or excluding non-natural persons (corporations) from the STR market. It is good to have operators who respect the locality of a unique place such as Nantucket. More than anything, there should be a clear, merit-based rule set that rewards good owners, and weeds out the bad. We must face reality: Nantucket has a seasonal tourist economy. Until we find a different source for jobs and income, we must make the best with what we have and avoid the temptation of nostalgia to drive policy.
What comes next for ACK Now and the pro-Article 60 group? Will they claim the vote on Article 60 was based on fear and corporate influence? Will they reach out to STR owners and work to find a solution that can end this debate in a productive way? Personally, I challenge them to use their resources to fund a deed restriction program that creates year-round housing. I know at least one of their members alluded to the value of such a program.
So here I am with my hand extended, ready to talk about solutions.