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Business & Economy

Short-term rentals like Airbnbs come with pros and cons in Columbus

A wine bottle, two glasses, a corkscrew and a welcome card sit on a table at a short-term rental unit in Olde Towne East.
Allie Vugrincic
/
WOSU
A wine bottle, two glasses, a corkscrew welcome guests to a luxury short-term rental unit managed by GH Hospitality.

Short-term rentals are in many Columbus neighborhoods. They bring people and business into the city, but they also take away from the city's limited housing stock.

On the corner of Oak Street and Wilson Avenue is a new six-unit building.

The spacious three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath apartments with balconies and rooftop patios are luxury short-term rentals managed by GH Hospitality.

Providing a lavish experience for guests is all about details, said Ryan Gibson, CEO of GH Hospitality, who admits he himself is a bit “bougie.”

“Usually from a presentation standpoint, your wine bottle,” Gibson said, pointing to a setup on the kitchen island. “We have a thank you card that pretty much says, ‘Hey, you know, thank you for booking with us. Is there anything that you need?’”

GH Hospitality puts soaps on the pillows, makeup wipes in the bathrooms and space heaters on the rooftops.

Towels and soaps are arranged on a bed in a luxury short-term rental in Olde Town East.
Allie Vugricic / WOSU
Towels and soaps are arranged on a bed in a Columbus luxury short-term rental managed by GH Hospitality.

When Gibson and his business partner, William Hetherington, started GH Hospitality three years ago, they saw an opening in the market for luxury short-term rentals. They started with three properties. By the end of April, they will handle the day-to-day operations of 150 units in Ohio and Indianapolis.

Gibson said with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, travel is picking up.

“But they're traveling in bigger crowds. So, they're wanting to be together under one roof,” Gibson said.

Overview

Short-term rentals in the city seem to be picking up, too. They are peppered across the city, especially in Short North, Olde Town East, German Village and downtown Columbus.

"I think what we're starting to find now is we're catching people that do not have licenses and they are getting registered — by the end of this year, we will have a much better look at what the number actually is."

The city defines short-term rentals as properties or pieces of property that are rented out for no more than 30 days. Since 2019, they’ve been regulated – owners must get a background check and an annual license and pay fees.

“It’s all with the idea of public safety in mind, to give people the confidence that the city has had some overview of it,” said Cathy Collins, Assistant Supervisor of Support Services at the Division of Public Safety, who oversees the city’s licensing section.

Collins said a few years ago, neighbors started to notice – and complain about – some short-term rentals. That prompted the city to start keeping track of them.

In 2019, the city issued licenses to 979 short-term rentals. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, licenses did not expire, but the city still issued almost 250 licenses for new short-term rentals. In 2021, 779 licenses were issued, and in 2022, 1,353 short-term rentals were granted licenses.

A new building at the corner of Oak Street and Wilson Ave. in Columbus' Franklin Park Neighborhood is comprised of six luxury Airbnbs run by GH Hospitality.
Allie Vugrincic / WOSU
A new building at the corner of Oak Street and Wilson Ave. in Columbus' Franklin Park Neighborhood is comprised of six luxury Airbnbs run by GH Hospitality.

Still, there may be even more short-term rentals in the city.

"I think what we're starting to find now is we're catching people that do not have licenses and they are getting registered — by the end of this year, we will have a much better look at what the number actually is,” Collins said.

Inside Airbnb, a website that uses data to show the impact of short-term rentals, shows more than 2,300 vacation rentals in the city, 1,946 of which are full homes and apartments, listed on the platform Airbnb.

Inside Airbnb's founder, Murray Cox, started the project in 2015 after realizing there were an abundance of vacation rentals in his quickly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood. He chose to look at Airbnb specifically because it dominated the market, though there are plenty of other platforms, including the also-popular Vrbo.

“It’s a pretty well proven phenomenon that Airbnb increases the cost of housing both for buying houses or renting houses,” Cox said.

He said the property market responds to profit – meaning there is often a financial incentive to convert residential properties into hotels.

"And so, I guess the question is, what do you think could possibly go wrong in that situation?” Cox said. “What can go wrong is that in some cases, thousands of units of housing are being taken off the market."

“What can go wrong is that in some cases, thousands of units of housing are being taken off the market."

Keeping up with inventory

So, the big question is, how much pressure do short-term rentals put on Columbus' already squeezed housing market?

Erin Prosser, assistant director for Housing Strategies in Columbus, said the city's housing crisis is complex. Her position was created in summer 2021 in response to the growing housing crunch.

In 2010, central Ohio had about 7% more housing units than it had people. By 2020, that buffer had dwindled to 2%. Up to that point, previously vacant properties had absorbed the increase in population, but that resource is mostly gone, Prosser said.

Now that housing is scarce, it’s becoming expensive. Prosser said the average home in central Ohio costs around $320,000. To afford that, a household needs an annual income of $119,000 – and around 70 percent of Columbus families don't meet that threshold.

As prices rise, investors buy homes, limiting access for families to become owners. And, if they turn properties into short-term rentals, those housing units are out of the inventory altogether.

"And so, the primary way we can address that issue is to really make sure that we don't see those prices escalate to the point where we continue to be attracted to it,” Prosser said.

The city is attacking prices by pushing to build more and putting safeguards in place to ensure housing will be available to lower-income households.

“I think it's always going to be here. Short term rentals (aren’t) going away in the Columbus market.”

Pros

While rental manager Gibson admits there are “pros and cons," to short-term rentals, he doesn’t think they will drive people out of neighborhoods.

He explained that they have economic benefits. When they bring people into the city for business or pleasure, those people spend money at local restaurants and stores. With more big corporations coming to central Ohio, business travelers will need nice, comfortable places to stay - and they might not be interested in run-of-the-mill hotels.

Gibson expects that as the city cracks down on short-term rentals, anyone who doesn’t run them right will get shut down. He noted that GH Hospitality always lets neighbors know when a short-term rental is coming to their street, and the company strives to attract respectful guests.

He said people should not be afraid to have short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.

“I think it's always going to be here. Short-term rentals (aren’t) going away in the Columbus market,” Gibson said.

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Allie Vugrincic is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She comes to Columbus from her hometown of Warren, Ohio, where she was a reporter, features writer and photographer for four years at the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator newspapers.