Spartanburg hosts concerned about ordinance banning short-term rentals in residential areas

Spartanburg’s proposal to change its short-term rental ordinance has support from some council members, but others want to make sure the changes don’t create economic hardship for landlords.

When the proposed changes were presented to city council at its January 24 meeting, they sparked debate among residents and council members.

According to City Attorney Bob Coler, the change is in response to neighborhood complaints about AirBnBs hosting parties and disturbing neighborhoods. He told council that this is only to clarify an existing ordinance that prohibits short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods because the city has treated AirBnBs and VRBOs in residential neighborhoods the same as hotels and motels.

At the January 24 meeting, the first reading of the proposed changes passed by a vote of 4 to 3. Meghan Smith (District 1), Ruth Littlejohn (District 3), Jamie Fulmer (District 4) and Mayor Jerome Rice voted for change. Rob Rain (District 2), Janie Salley (District 5) and Erica Brown (District 6) voted against.

The Board will discuss the proposal again at its meeting on Monday 14 February.

Fulmer, who voted for the first reading of the order, said it gave staff the opportunity to be “more consistent and direct”.

Fulmer received neighborhood complaints from his Converse Heights constituents. Fulmer added that many of those complaints were about absentee owners, who weren’t on site.

Still, concerns remain about whether those complaints have been a citywide problem. South Side resident Monique Watson hasn’t heard of any complaints at neighborhood association meetings or town halls, despite a few houses in the South Converse neighborhood being listed on AirBnB.

Jimmy Dawkins, whose Duncan Park home is listed on AirBnB by his son, Jeff, shared his contact details with neighbors amid noise complaints. Dawkins expressed similar confusion.

“As a landlord, the last thing I want is for a tenant to come in on a weekend and throw parties,” Dawkins said. “And honestly, we haven’t had anything like this since listing the property (on AirBnB) in September.”

The zoning ordinance update will only limit short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, which include most of the South Side, East Side, West Side, but not the North Side or Downtown. As a result, most downtown and North Side short-term rentals will still be able to operate.

A zoning update will take place with the new comprehensive city plan, which is expected to be finalized in the summer of 2022. The comprehensive plan may change areas designated as residential neighborhoods or otherwise.

“I felt like the decision was rushed,” said Brown, who voted against the changes. “A lot of people who use these short-term rentals do it in the right way to earn extra income so their households can support themselves and their families. And I think we just need to have a public discussion about it.”

Fulmer, who expressed his understanding of the need to update the ordinance to clarify the city’s position, told the Herald-Journal that there had been discussions since the last council meeting about whether “a Outright banning is the right way”.

For Smith, who voted on first reading, concerns about short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods were primarily about housing stock and affordability.

“I see all of this through access to housing, and we need more housing in the city of all types,” Smith said. “And when we have more people renting short-term, it takes away access to housing for our residents.”

Smith is confident the city will create language in the ordinance, as well as zoning in the overall plan, that will simultaneously allow for space and regulation of short-term rentals.

Clemson University urban planning professor John Gaber identified short-term rentals as a risk of shrinking housing stock and cited the example of Charleston, where communities have become gentrified with the rise of housing stock. VRBO and AirBnBs.

Gaber acknowledged that the scale of the problem in Spartanburg may not be “as dire as it would be in places like Charleston, where tourism demand is enormous.” But he pointed to the city center‘s rapid economic development as a potential factor that could lead to more tourism and short-term rental investors in the area.

“I would say (the risk) is not astronomically huge, but it’s something the city needs to be very aware of, and they need to manage it appropriately,” Gaber said.

City attorney says ordinance won’t affect boarding schools

At the council meeting, Smith expressed concern about the ordinance’s potential impact on boarding schools, which are rented by the day or week and serve as crisis or transitional housing for those in dire straits. housing instability or homelessness.

“Bob (Coler) made it clear that the ordinance would not affect residential schools because it is a particularly permitted type of housing and there is someone on site who is there. so is just a different situation,” Smith said.

Watson also shares Smith’s concerns about the problems boarding schools could face if the ordinance were to pass.

“We have boarding schools that are loosely defined in our city code. They can be cut even if the city says they won’t,” Watson said. “I don’t know how you delineate the two.”

The Haven is involved in crisis housing and rental assistance programs in Spartanburg. According to executive director Kelly Schlossin, the Haven received 140 requests for rental assistance last week, compared to an average of 20 per week before the pandemic. Applications for housing assistance come from those at risk of losing their homes.

Recognizing an acute need for crisis housing in Spartanburg, Schlossin found that most The Haven customers experiencing housing instability were expected to stay in local motels, which would not be affected by the short-term rental ban.

In addition to motels, Atchison Enterprises operates eight short-term rental spaces on East Kennedy Street, providing short-term rental options for those experiencing housing instability.

Brenda Atchison told the Herald-Journal that four of the eight homes are currently occupied and she doesn’t know how the city’s ordinance might affect their rental properties.

Who are Spartanburg’s short-term tenants?

According to Spartanburg AirBnB hosts, including Omba Kihundo, McKrae Game, Jimmy Dawkins and Jeff Dawkins, most of their guests were traveling nurses, college parents and young professionals – waiting for their paycheck to qualify for a more permanent residence in Spartanburg.

Game, who rents a single-family residence in South Converse, lives in Spartanburg seven months a year. Throughout the year, Game sublets two or all three rooms depending on whether he is in Spartanburg.

“I use AirBnB short term until I have a long term tenant,” Game said. “And you can report people for being a bad customer, and you can choose to accept or not accept a booking request.”

Both Game and Kihundo have been contacted or hosted by people looking for emergency housing when someone cannot live in their home for various reasons, including when young LGBTQ+ teenagers have been kicked out of their families. .

Short-term rentals bring additional income

Game said he may have to leave Spartanburg if short-term rentals are completely banned.

“It’s hard on me because my wife and I are separated and I’m still helping pay the bills for her and our two young children,” Game said. “The only way to make it work was to rent a three-bedroom house to pay the bills.”

Kihundo rents out the spare bedroom in his house to save extra money while trying to pay off his mortgage.

For Jimmy Dawkins, who retired from working for UPS, AirBnB rentals are a great way to supplement his retirement income. Dawkins’ property was once rented out to long-term tenants, but he has found it easier to maintain his property with short-term rentals, during times when there are no tenants.

“When it comes to retirement, a lot of people have pension plans that aren’t that great,” Dawkins said. “So it’s good to have that extra income and it makes a difference.”

According to Dawkins’ son, Jeff, the extra income from AirBnB also allows the family some space to pay for property maintenance.

Create generational wealth

Dawkins’ home in Duncan Park is the family’s first home and has been in the family for decades. Jimmy Dawkins, who first moved into his Duncan Park home in 1981, spent 30 years paying off the mortgage.

Jeff grew up there until he was 10 years old. For many black residents of Spartanburg, home ownership is only a recent phenomenon and has not come easily with the historic policies of redlining and urban renewal.

Dawkins said he had no plans to sell the house because owning property was important.

“I do it this way and I want to teach my son to do the same, to keep your property,” Dawkins said. “I just want to create some kind of generational wealth that we’re blessed to still have. And I want to give some kind of wealth to my grandchildren.”

Immigration attorney James Jones sent emails to Rice and Littlejohn expressing their opposition to the order. In an email, Jones called for more consistent research and highlighted the risks of banning short-term rentals in predominantly black neighborhoods.

“You pit average citizens (in some residential neighborhoods) against wealthier citizens (with high-end condos downtown) and say you can still do AirBnBs if you live in a commercial area,” a said Jones. “I think it favors the rich over the average and the poor. And that’s not what I think our city council should be involved in.”

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