It’s no secret short-term rentals have been vilified in Santa Barbara, and short-term rental hosts are being portrayed out-of-state developers who are ruining neighborhoods and taking away housing from locals. These false narratives couldn’t be further from the truth, and I hope my story as a short-term rental host helps shed light on how critical short-term rentals are.

As a 61-year-old mother of two, I have lived in the same home for the past 25 years. I love to knit, read, garden, sail my boat and volunteer in the community I love. I often can’t walk more than five minutes in my little beach town without giving a hug to someone I know.

I started sharing my home with traveling guests and families almost 10 years ago after losing my job due to a company closure. At the time I had one kid in college and was taking care of my elderly parents. Despite some college education, I couldn’t find a job that paid more than minimum wage, and I was afraid of losing my home.

A friend suggested that I start renting my home on a short-term rental platform to earn extra money — especially since I love to have people over. I didn’t know what short-term rentals were, but I was desperate and willing to give it a try. Today, I have over 600 five-star reviews and am a proud Airbnb Host Community Leader representing Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Sharing my home has helped me pay my mortgage and property taxes for the last decade — issues that are true both in Ventura, where I live, and in Santa Barbara, an area I represent as a short-term rental host group leader. Beyond offering me an economic lifeline when I needed it most, sharing my home has allowed me to meet and befriend people from all over the world — I’ve hosted guests and families from all seven continents.

Above all, it gave me the flexibility to care for my aging parents while still supplementing my income. I sadly lost my father five years ago, but I was able to see and take care of him every day in his final years. Sharing my home gave me and my parents the priceless gift of time.

Short-term rental hosts like myself are your neighbors and friends who offer visitors an affordable place to stay while driving tourism dollars to our beloved neighborhood restaurants and businesses. In Santa Barbara, the median price of a home is around $2 million and rent is around $5,400 a month. Rather than taking away housing from locals, short-term rentals offer residents a source of extra money to keep up with rising costs of living. We are not the enemy.

We also support reasonable regulations. Unfortunately, the City of Santa Barbara’s Short-Term Rental Enforcement Pilot Program is ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. The results show the city is willing to spend $1 million to collect less than $600,000 in fines while only taking action on roughly 40-50 unpermitted short-term rentals. If the city wants to focus on enforcement, it should work with local hosts and platforms to implement a fair and reasonable regulatory system to help bring hosts into compliance.

Many other cities in California, including San Diego, have adopted reasonable short-term rental regulations that allow residents to continue sharing their home while balancing the needs of their community. Their tiered system is extremely intentional with the intent to ensure there is no discrimination between who can share their home as a short-term rental and to preserve housing stock and communities. Santa Barbara hosts want to work with the city to help strike that balance.

What’s more, if fairly regulated, short-term rentals can help generate millions to the local economy including valuable tax revenue for the city, which currently faces a $7.1 million budget deficit at a time when travel spending in California is at an all time high. For example, cities like San Diego, Big Bear Lake, and Malibu require short-term rental platforms to collect and remit local occupancy taxes on behalf of hosts, creating an additional source of tax revenue to fund critical government services that benefit their local communities.

As Santa Barbara leaders decide the future of short-term rentals, they should allow hosts like me to be part of the solution rather than making us out to be monsters in our own community. By engaging hosts and looking at what’s worked in nearby cities, we can find sensible solutions that benefit everyone.

Sheri Cecil is a Santa Barbara and Ventura short-term rental host group leader.

Correction: The City of Santa Barbara budgeted $1 million, not $2 million, for the program, though the outlay so far has been $100,000.

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