GALVESTON

Some island short-term rental owners are pushing the federal government to recognize their properties as eligible to provide transitional housing for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Short-term rental properties aren’t likely to be approved, however, for safety reasons, a Federal Emergency Management Agency representative said. In the program, the agency provides displaced people temporary housing in approved hotels and motels.

The omission has angered many people in Galveston who rent their homes for short periods of time, typically less than 30 days. They argue the units are needed because approved hotels in the county are filling up fast.

“We’re just really kind of concerned,” said Ron Venable, short-term rental owner and vice president of the Short Term Rental Owners Association of Galveston. “We’re hoping FEMA can at least get itself back on the ball, so those people can have more options of places to stay.”

Starting Aug. 26, Hurricane Harvey inundated much of Southeast Texas with heavy rains, causing massive flooding across the area. Galveston was luckier than areas to the north, where thousands of people had to flee their flooding homes and now have to find temporary places to live.

Short-term rentals make up one-third of the lodging market on the island, tourism officials have said.

The rentals can’t offer the shelter assistance to people because they don’t meet the requirements of the U.S. General Services Administration’s federal travel regulation, FEMA media affairs specialist William Rukeyser said.

The regulation requires that all federal officials on travel business stay at approved accommodations. The approved places have to meet requirements set by the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990, which mandates the lodging has appropriate smoke alarms in each guest room and fire sprinkler systems in each guest room more than four stories off the ground.

If federal officials can’t stay at a short-term rental, people who were displaced by a natural disaster can’t stay there either, Rukeyser said.

“Those have to meet the same categories,” Rukeyser said. “They would have to be on a GSA list of safety and fire code.”

That argument is faulty because many short-term rentals are quality places worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Mary Branum, president of the Galveston association. The rentals also pay taxes to the city and state, she said.

“Short-term rentals are an international, well-known, accepted industry,” Branum said. “We are lodging. We pay hotel occupancy tax.”

Branum said the association hopes to get the rentals allowed to participate in time for Hurricane Irma, a major storm that began making its way up the western Florida coast on Sunday.

“If we can alleviate that issue with FEMA now, we’re helping another state,” Branum said.

From a humanitarian standpoint, short-term rental owners should be allowed to help out if they wish, Venable said.

“We just got sad when we couldn’t accommodate,” Venable said. “We know what a storm does, and we’ve all had to have places to live for the same reason. It was like it was our turn to give back to people in the same boat.”

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; samantha.ketterer@galvnews.com or on Twitter at @sam_kett

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(22) comments

Mary Branum

Thank you for a well written article.
I question the logic as short term rentals are typically free standing homes which, I doubt, would ever be over 4 stories. GSA's regulation does not state specifics under 4 stories. Does their mandate apply for a ne story motel?
This is one more issue where government does not know best.
It is criminal to tell a family they must be crammed in a hotel room vs. a two or three bedroom home where they have the option of preparing their own meals, but must absorb the additional expense of eating out.
In October, 2008 approved and begged for short term rentals in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
Where is their logic?

David Collins

Mary,
It was unclear to me from the article exactly what FEMA thought was missing. Aren't STRs required to have smoke alarms in every room/bedroom? What else did they seem to think was missing? Or put another way, why can't government employees stay in STRs?

Mary Branum

David: STR's are not required to have smoked alarms, though I have yet to be in one that doesn't. .STR's are typically single family residences, I can understand and agree with high rises (over 4 stories) being sprinklered, but what is their policy for under 4 stories, if any? May a government employee stay in a facility under 4 stories? What if there are no accommodations available or is someone moved out to make rooms available for government employees!

My argument with FEMA, is STR's were allowed after Ike in 2008 and are desperately needed now, as then, for humanitarian reasons. There reaches a point that logic and common sense must come into play. According to the "FEMA approved List", the majority of accommodations in the Houston metro area are not what one would even call one star! I can only assume FEMA would prefer to have evacuees in shelters or sleeping in cars if hotels are at capacity. Hotels have the choice of allocating a certain number of rooms, not the entire facility.

Today's GCDN has an article from the AP, states " FEMA's new model for monster storms puts the emphasis on paying for hotels and apartments."

The utilization of hotels is not mandatory, it is up to each to register to accept vouchers.

If one uses the argument that STR's should meet hotel requirements, then all housing everywhere should also, from single family homes to multi family apartments.

Again, there is a humanitarian need along the Texas Coastal Bend, Florida and other storm impacted states from these emergencies.

FEMA needs to help, not restrict.

Ron Shelby

If they want this then we should investigate having them meet all regulations and other inspection criteria required of a hotel. It's only fair to the hotels that if the short term rentals want to be on equal footing they should.

George Croix

Is there no room in the federal bureaucracy for even a little common sense, get outta the box thinking? This is supposed to be a fed. govt. response to a disaster to provide temporary shelter, not a planned housing assistance event. BEND the 'normal' rules a little to provide needed roofs over heads, unless it compromises safety somehow.
Maybe that's it...perhaps the fear of lawsuits resulting from an uncrossed t or undotted i or unfilled form or some other checklist slight is the reason for what appears to be another usual policy wonk response to an unusual situation.

Don Schlessinger

"BEND the 'normal' rules a little", that's what BHO did on our southern border, how's that workin for ya now?

Don Schlessinger

I wonder if the short term rental owners will charge the same daily rate they are charging tourists? As a taxpayer I'm not for using STR's for flood victims unless they give we tax victims a break on their daily rates.

Mary Branum

Approved accommodation rate is set be FEMA/3rd party contractor. From what I have learned this is far below typical STR rates, most by 50% or more., Mr. Schlessinger, what is the difference between a hotel or bed & breakfast and an STR, when victims desperately need a roof over their head? Both have overhead and operating expenses. You have the right to protest your taxes while sitting in the comfort of your home while others have no home.

Don Schlessinger

Mary,
“You have the right to protest your taxes while sitting in the comfort of your home while others have no home.” Mary, you make me smile, do you think I haven’t been through tough times because of hurricanes and tropical storms, sleeping in hot houses without electricity? And yes I am sitting in the comfort of my home.

Mary, how many STRs do you have within 100 feet of your home? I have three, and four just around the corner. They fit right into our neighborhood. Can you imagine how filling STRs with strangers will from wherever will affect our neighborhood? In your business, you have the right to refuse to rent to someone if you must for one reason or another. That won’t happen when you lease to the government, but that probably won’t affect you. It may have a significant effect on our neighborhood though.

Mary Branum

Actually, an evacuee with a FEMA voucher must be met and checked in personally as there is paperwork and online registration to be completed and identification provided. It is the choice of hotels or B&B to accept or decline the potential guest. It is also a choice to register to accept vouchers, not a blanket requirement for all facilities to accept vouchers no matter what. Currently, vouchers expire on 9/25. After that date, evacuees are financially responsible for their own lodging. In 14 years I have never had an issue at my STR. I can't say the same regarding some permanent residents in the same neighborhood.

George Croix

Mr. Schlessinger, I personally cannot draw a parallel between a disastrous storm aftermath with thousands displaced from their own homes because of it's wrath, and the continuous lack of immigration enforcement for decades where millions voluntarily leave their own homes to enter this country illegally, but would be interested in hearing how you managed to do so, in case I've got it wrong on my end.....

Don Schlessinger

.George, I'm surrounded by STRs in my neighborhood, and I've been very lucky with few problems. One reason is that the customer leaves after a few days, if they if they become a problem I know they probably won't be back to bother us again because the STR owners around me don't want a bad reputation. If the Feds get involved and "bend the rules," the STR owner not be able to have any control of who they put into these their houses, and people living close will be the ones suffering any problems not the STR owner. The STR owners will be getting fat financially off their property, and we neighbors will be stuck (for no telling how long) with the problem.
BTW, the parallel between a disastrous storm aftermath with thousands displaced from their own homes because of its wrath, and the continuous lack of immigration enforcement for decades where millions voluntarily leave their own homes to enter this country illegally?" The answer is the same, we can't get rid of the illegals, and guess what?
I live in a quiet neighborhood with GREAT neighbors. The last thing I want is the disruption of what we have by people who have NO investment in my neighborhood. George, I have 7 STRs within a stone’s throw of my house. How many STRs do you have within 500 ft. of your house?
Don't be mistaken, I do have sympathy for the victims of these hurricanes, I just don't want to become a victim myself. And that’s what I fear.

George Croix

You have a point, for sure, Mr. Schlessinger....I'd think that the Feds could time limit any rentals they pay for, BUT as I just now recalled with my old Senior memory, some Katrina folks had to be pried out of 'temp' housing with a crowbar...amid all kinds of "ist' claim from the usual suspects...so, so much for that.....
Mr. Schlessinger, I cannot argue with your reasoning here....thanks for the explanation.
Imagine that, impassioned debate yet free of snark, and mutual understanding to some degree....especially the part about can't get rid of 'em once the feds get involved....
Think it'll ever catch on in the Forums...??[beam][beam]

Don Schlessinger

George, it just makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over. [beam]

Bill Broussard

I like the way you thought this through George. The recollections of Katrina were valuable to add to the discussion: a problem Houston still grapples with cause once evacuated, many just stayed in Houston.

Ms Branum is like a Russian Blogger. Living in Chicago, she tries like heck to influence everything from local lobbies to our elections via money and blogs and because she is quite eloquent she appears to be whatever she wants us to think she is other than a long-distance land owner making money here and exporting it.

It would seem to me that if:

-one wants an increased level of safety in the future, move behind the seawall. Up until Ike, Evia sold home lots based on it being behind the seawall.
- one wants complete safety in the future, move to Arizona
- One wants FEMA business, stop whining and invest in becoming compliant like Hotels do.
This is not rocket science but I guess if you can get a hotel benefit without a hotel cost, why not try?

For most of the STR's, this is a business proposition, period. I couldn't help but notice Branum's whining about paying local and HOT tax as though that topic had anything to do with anything at all at the Federal level. Besides, her tenants pay those fees, not her.
The Governor waved HOT tax on hotel guests funded by FEMA and I can assure you that local taxes add much more to her business than she pays. She was a staunch supporter of the recent $60MM bond for streets and draining for instance. Now she throws that topic in to plead victim of taxes. Just look at the uplift having good streets and drainage provide STR's.
If you are a student of Branum's writing, you know she weaves in irrelevant stuff to write with an emotional hook. But in the end, its all about falling tourist revenue and making money by placing anyone they can in beds within a neighborhood.

I have never seen one sentimental bone in STR owners writing or politicking. Her narrative is pure BS.

-

Mark Aaron

George: "BUT as I just now recalled with my old Senior memory, some Katrina folks had to be pried out of 'temp' housing with a crowbar...amid all kinds of "ist' claim from the usual suspects..."

Is that a dog whistle I hear George?

Mark Aaron

"I live in a quiet neighborhood with GREAT neighbors. The last thing I want is the disruption of what we have by people who have NO investment in my neighborhood. "

You mean like immigrants or minorities, Don? Because it sure sounds like it.

George Croix

How does bending rules work for me?
Well, I and quite a few others are alive and relatively unhamrmed to this day because we bent rules, when the conditions under which the rules were created were not the same ones being faced.
May not make anybody else happy, but I'm pretty stoked about it, and would guess the other not-dead/injured folks are, too....[wink]
We pay for 'leadership' to LEAD, to make decisions based on the conditions at hand, which rarely match the ones at any other time exactly, not stick like glue come hell or high water (no pun) with the ones dreamed up while sitting in the A/C over catered lunches months or years ago...
We can get by a lot cheaper if we forget leadership and just read from directives...
But, that's just me

Mark Aaron

George: "How does bending rules work for me? Well, I and quite a few others are alive and relatively unhamrmed to this day because we bent rules, when the conditions under which the rules were created were not the same ones being faced. May not make anybody else happy, but I'm pretty stoked about it"

So you are recommending everyone become a scofflaw like you, George. You know better than everyone else?

Mary Branum

Mr. Broussard your facts are skewed again. Where did Chicago come into play? I live here and family has been on this Island since 1851!

Mark Aaron

Thanks for the heads up Mary.

Mary Branum

Thank you Mark. I have no idea what Mr. Broussard is spouting. Other than flying through the airport, I have never spent anytime, nor lived in Chicago or anywhere north of the Red River. I am not a long distance land owner unless one considers 10 blocks, long distance! I have never made a comment about the bond election nor have I whined about HOT Taxes. I have been involved in politics to protect our local ordinances. I believe he has me confused with someone else.

As to HOT taxes. The Governor did waive collection and payment for evacuees. FEMA, however, is including and paying HOT taxes on their vouchers.

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