The glow of the lights lit up the sky on what is otherwise a clear, cloudless night. Given that it is close to midnight, I find it surprising that our neighbor’s lights are still on. Being a night owl, I frequently will write or read until the wee hours of the morning. But on a Tuesday night, I am the anomaly. Most of our neighbors are working professionals and are fast asleep.
Then I start to notice a pattern, realizing that each night as I take the dogs out for the final time, the lights are on at the same house. This is weird. I try to figure out which house it is and I realize it is the house my friend Janice sold a couple of years ago. Our last talk before she moved away, she mentioned that people from Texas have purchased the house.
My first thought is — I wonder how long they will last? Usually folks from the southern states can’t survive the windy, cold winters here in Nederland and pull up stakes and leave.
As I pass the house the next morning, I see a lock box on the door — this is strange. Hmmm, as I reflect on this – I realize I haven’t seen these new residents much at all in the two years since they purchased the house. Then the mystery is solved after my husband chats with our neighbor, Dave. Dave, who is entirely looped into all the gossip of our local community.
The house is being rented as a Short Term Rental (STR) through Airbnb or VRBO. In between rentals, they leave the entry hall lights on 24 hours a day for the next renter.
I am instantly annoyed. I value living here in Nederland for the peace, the quiet, and yes the darkness. I love walking around in the evening, being able to enjoy the solace of gazing upon a full moon. I like standing on our deck, gazing upon the planets and constellations, occasionally even spotting a shooting star whizzing overhead. Now, these outsiders are ruining my mountain experience.
And apparently it’s not just Nederland experiencing these STR growing pains. Recently, Outside magazine published an article on the rise of STR rentals in mountain towns all over, citing HomeAway rentals of 670,000 room nights in 2016 in Colorado alone.
It’s understandable to see this incredible growth. Working in downtown Nederland, I am frequently queried by tourists about places to stay. With only one real motel in town and just a couple of other conventional lodging options nearby, STRs have taken advantage of the demand. I know people personally — primary residents renting out their extra bedrooms for the income. One woman I know in nearby Boulder literally moves her entire family out on high demand weekends, and rents her home for more than a $1000 per night. Who can blame them?
And yet, there is another unintended consequence of the rise of these rentals. How does this affect the local work force? The housing market along the Front Range is incredibly tight right now. Every time someone slots their house for short term renting, this removes housing for long term renters who work at the coffee houses, local stores, restaurants and ski area.
When I lived in Lake Tahoe, I felt the squeeze of this demand. It is eventually what drove me from the Sierra to a more affordable town in Oregon. Whenever a room or long-term rental came available, the owner was besieged with phone calls, texts, and emails. After being lucky enough to rent a room in a desirable neighborhood, I got forced out when she decided to sell the house. I spent months looking for just a room to rent, before finally giving up and moving out of state.
It’s easy to understand both sides. Tourism is a boon to Nederland’s economy, especially in the summer and fall. Providing lodging for tourists allows them stay longer, pumping more dollars into our town.
But if we don’t provide long-term affordable housing solutions, we risk alienating local workers. For Nederland to continue to grow, residents and business owners must recognize these issues and work on them collectively to insure the viability of our economy.
As with many things in life, for our community to thrive, balance is the key.