By Gabe Frayne
Angela Dorsey-Kockler is giving me the quick tour of her short-term rental (STR) in the Richmond neighborhood. Her husband Nick and two young sons follow her up the stairs to a loft above their garage.
The studio apartment she has just finished cleaning for her next guest features a queen-size bed and kitchenette and looks like it was built about a month ago.
“We love it,” she says. “It’s doing so much better than I could have ever imagined.”
Dorsey-Kockler opened her STR and listed on Airbnb in May 2019.
“We were stymied earlier on because the building boom meant that our ‘small project’ just wasn’t worth the while for most outfits,” she recalls.
Temporarily giving up on the idea, she “picked the ball back up again. I knew we were sitting on a great opportunity. We converted a garage loft, which was up to that point just a shoebox of a room that we stored extra junk in.”
Her entry into Portland’s STR community is fairly typical of the more than 2,700 permitted currently listed on portlandmaps.com (although no one seems to know exactly how many of those are still active).
It has now been roughly a decade since STRs first became a visible presence in Portland. It appears that, after a series of controversies, the industry has finally found its niche.
One controversy that reared its head early on was the concern that STRs were usurping potential additional dwelling units (ADUs) that could have been put to better use alleviating Portland’s long-term housing shortage.
Rob Hertert and his wife Debi co-founded the industry group, Host2Host. He was asked if STRs were having a negative impact on the availability of affordable housing in the city.
He replied, “ADUs are famously known for evolving over the years. It might start as a STR, it might turn into a granny flat, it might be returning kids coming back, it might be an expansion of family.”
Rob pointed out that city regulations limit most STRs to no more than two bedrooms and require hosts to reside on the property for at least 270 days per year.
In addition, he says, hosts must charge their guests a four dollar per night fee which goes directly to the city’s housing fund.
Nonetheless, the concern was not unfounded given how many unpermitted STRs opened their doors in Portland in years past. It wasn’t until 2019 that the city reached an agreement with Airbnb that required the company to share data with regulators and remove unpermitted listings from its site.
Another concern was paying guests “hosting” raucous parties in their STR, particularly on Halloween.
In 2020, however, Airbnb began blocking one-night reservations on Halloween weekend, which resulted in a 49 percent decrease in parties, according to the company’s data.
When members of the Richmond and Sunnyside neighborhood associations were contacted by The Southeast Examiner for comment on the nuisance factor sometimes attributed to STRs, one spokesperson replied, “I did not realize Sunnyside had so many STRs.”
In 2017, Airbnb (one of several STR platforms) was hit with a discrimination lawsuit brought by three black Oregonians who claimed that the company’s requirement that guests post a photo and full names to make a reservation violated the state’s public accommodations law.
In January this year, Airbnb agreed to a settlement to only require prospective guests to post their initials, but only in Oregon.
There are, of course, other forms of discrimination as well. Debi Hertert was asked if she knew of STR hosts here refusing to rent to LGBTQ guests based on religious objections.
“I haven’t heard of that,” she replied, “but we are really strongly associated with a group called Fabstayz that focuses on LGBTQ travel… I think we have really exceptionally strong support from that group of people.”
Just as many of the controversies surrounding these living spaces appear to have been resolved, the pandemic has created new challenges for the STR hosting community.
“At first, we were all pretty devastated,” says Debi Hertert, noting that many hosts who simply rent a bedroom in their homes had to quit for safety reasons.
On the other hand, Rob says, “STRs in separate units were more resilient than the hotels were.” This is possibly because they were attracting new types of clients, such as family visitors and people working remotely.
As a tenuous sense of normalcy settles over the industry, the hosting community is making an effort to convince the public that STRs are a boon to the local economy.
A tax analysis prepared by Robert Jordan, a North Tabor host, found that between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the second quarter of 2021, the STR share of total lodging taxes paid rose from 13.64 percent to 30.38 percent.
His conclusion? “As the industry adjusted to the pandemic, after only a short adjustment period, STRs were better able to adapt than were hotels and their relative contribution to tax receipts rose accordingly.”