I grew up on Oahu from age 10 to age 30. I began coming to Kauai in 1966, lived in Wailua Homesteads for several summers while working on a banana farm there, and now have the good fortune to own a home near Haena. I read with interest the forum article by Mr. Randy Weir about the impact of TVRs (transient vacation rentals) on housing and rental prices (TGI March 2, 2019). In that article Mr. Weir states that those who believe that TVRs increase housing and rental prices are incapable of critical thought, are blinded by special interests, and further he states that the claim that TVRs are one of the causes of unaffordable housing and rentals is “….a claim with absolutely no basis in fact and one never verified by legitimate research findings.”
I am a professor and social scientist by training. My observations and conversations with people on the North Shore, especially past Hanalei, have caused me to wonder whether TVRs are having an impact on the availability of rental property, as well as increasing rents. I had no particular speculation about housing prices. In my discussions I found that many people out here believe Mr. Weir is wrong. Mr. Weir’s emphatic and somewhat vitriolic statements sent me on a search of the scientific literature on how TVRs impact rental and housing prices, and whether there were data on rental property availability and TVRs. Given Mr. Weir’s statements I expected to find little available evidence. Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal had an article on October 22, 2017, “How Airbnb Affects Home Prices and Rents.” It led me to three recent studies which found that in urban areas in New York and California, the existence of TVRs (such as Airbnb) was associated with higher housing prices, higher rents, and reduced amounts of housing for those seeking longer-term rentals. Another report from Sonoma County, which is more rural, comes to similar conclusions. It is possible that findings from studies on the mainland will not completely generalize to Kauai, but nonetheless, the data are becoming clearer. TVRs in varying geographic settings can impact housing and rental markets, with reduced rental availability, higher rents and higher housing prices. There are many factors that influence these dynamics in addition to the existence of TVRs, but this evidence suggests that Mr. Weir has misstated his case.
I hope that our lawmakers and policymakers on this beautiful and precious island will be informed by the experiences from other areas that have seen an influx of TVRs, will pay attention to the scientific findings relevant to these issues, and will not be unduly swayed by special interests or unfounded claims.
John S. Brekke, PhD, is a Haena resident.