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For unincorporated communities, limited ways to regulate housing

Amanda Peacher Dec 20, 2021
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Joshua trees and other desert plants grow in Joshua Tree National Park on July 22, 2021 near Twentynine Palms, California. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For unincorporated communities, limited ways to regulate housing

Amanda Peacher Dec 20, 2021
Heard on:
Joshua trees and other desert plants grow in Joshua Tree National Park on July 22, 2021 near Twentynine Palms, California. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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Short-term rentals are on the rise in many parts of the country that attract tourists, including rural areas that are close to recreation destinations, like Joshua Tree National Park. But some communities can’t easily regulate these rentals because they’re unincorporated. That’s one reason why affordable housing can be hard to come by in these areas. 

Three years ago, Kimberly May decided to move from Long Beach back to Joshua Tree, California. 

“Growing up out here, it was affordable,” she said.

May also said, back then, housing was easy to come by. 

“Long-term rentals were a thing. Now everything has turned into short term rental. It’s eating up the market,” she said.

May said she spent eight months living in her motorhome while she searched for a place. She finally found one in nearby Yucca Valley. Rent is more than she says she’s comfortable with on her income as a chef-manager at a local restaurant. 

“So I’m paying $1,150 which is very high for this area,” she said.

May said she would like to see restrictions on the number of vacation rentals in her community, but that would need to happen at the county level. 

“Joshua Tree itself is just a village,” May said.

Her community of about 8,000 is unincorporated – there’s no town council, or mayor, which is common in rural areas. 

“In many rural communities there is not as much regulation,” said Lance George with the Housing Assistance Council, a nonprofit focused on rural housing, “which in many respects is probably going to mean less protections for renters.”

George said housing affordability is a rural problem as much as it is an urban one. First, housing supply in rural areas can be limited. Second, George said wages tend to be lower. 

“And those combined can lead oftentimes lead to affordability pressures for rural renters,” he said.

And, few ways to regulate housing. Elena Bigart is with the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana. She did a study looking at short-term rentals in the state. 

“We didn’t see a lot of regulations in the majority of small towns and counties that we interviewed with lower populations,” she said.

​​That was also true in unincorporated areas of Montana. And, she found that counties generally have less power than cities when it comes to regulating short-term rentals. 

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