A Ball High teacher lives in the blue cottage on the corner. Next to her lives a medical student.
The couple at the end of the street has lived there for 40 years. I know this because I live here, too.
The rest of the houses on my block are owned by people I don’t know and never see. What I do see is a procession of tourists in and out of these houses every few days.
Galveston calls them short-term rentals. The Galveston Park Board of Trustees says short-term rentals now account for about half of our Hotel Occupancy Tax. Except they are not hotels; they are homes in neighborhoods.
While I’m concerned about my block, I am worried about our community. Here are some facts: There is no cohesive plan to govern short-term rentals on our island.
City hall has been tackling the issue for several years. Each proposed resolution has been rejected, mostly for fear of lawsuits.
And the state legislature supports short-term rentals in Texas. But, then, they don’t live on my block.
Nor do the deep-pocketed developers and even locals who are gobbling up the island’s housing stock and cashing in on this trend to accommodate tourists in previously-private homes. It’s very profitable from what I am told.
My husband and I own a couple of houses in Galveston. We rent, long-term, to a police officer, a University of Texas Medical Branch manager, a hair stylist and an engineer. We’re not rich nor are we altruistic.
We want people to live in, work in and become part of Galveston. Middle-class working people can’t do that anymore when a one bedroom, one bath on my block sells for $349,000.
Some locals say short-term rentals are great. Dilapidated properties are being renovated! Tourism is exploding! Hotel and sales taxes are soaring! Housing prices are in the stratosphere! Lots of people are making real money!
I don’t disagree. But, I am certain we all need to understand this industry better and create rules to manage it.
Of the island’s 26,000 housing units, 4,300 are now registered short-term rentals. Another 800 short-term rentals are believed to be operating illegally, so that’s at least 5,100 total. Roughly 2,500 short-term rentals are down west beach. The other 2,600 are operating in the core of our city.
In fact, in some inner-city neighborhoods, tourists are now renting 30-plus percent of the homes!
Are we OK with this?
I’m not. I urge our city leaders to act urgently. Pause the issuance of short-term rentals permits for the remainder of 2022. Appoint a blue-ribbon committee to study short-term rentals and find best practices in other communities. Think creatively and strategically and consider all ideas.
Seek not to eliminate, but instead to regulate short-term rentals as a viable business industry.
Tourism is Galveston’s number-one economic engine, and tourists are critically important to us. That said, they already dominate the West End, our beaches and our seawall six months of the year. Must we hand over our neighborhoods, too?
Galveston is our town. I, for one, would like to keep it that way.