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Up North tourist towns eye legislature’s vote on short-term rentals

 Boyne City resident Lindsay Verwys manages 18 properties through her company Boyneland Vacation Rentals.
Taylor Wizner
Interlochen Public Radio
Boyne City resident Lindsay Verwys manages 18 properties through her company Boyneland Vacation Rentals.

When Monica Peck married her second husband two years ago it meant her family grew to seven people under one roof.

Her small home in Boyne City wouldn’t cut it. She and her husband spent a year looking for a place with a couple of bedrooms on a $250,000 budget. They couldn’t find anything that would work.

“You buy a house now for $250,000 in Boyne City the chances you’re going to have to invest another $50,000 to make it livable is huge,” she said. “It’s just crazy what people can charge for homes anymore.”

Peck, a lifelong Boyne resident, is the director of the district library and her husband runs the Boyne City Farmers Market. They moved 30 minutes away to Gaylord where they could afford a home.

Peck and her family still work and go to school in Boyne. But the long distance has meant she can’t volunteer as much, can’t vote in local elections and has more trouble making plans with friends and family.

“It seems like very much a first world problem when you think about the struggles that other people are going through but it was so heartbreaking because both he and I love this community so much,” she says.

Over the last few years, about 140 Boyne City homes have begun operating at least sometimes as vacation rentals. That's nearly 6% of the housing stock for the lakefront town of about 2,333 homes, located near Charlevoix and Petoskey.

Steve Schnell, the program director for the non-profit, Housing North, says even the loss of a few places for year-round residents has a big impact on who can afford to live in the community.

Recently, a man posted a rental home in Boyne City. Schnell says by the next day, 170 people had filled out applications.

“The only people finding housing after looking for a couple of months are people that are appealing to acquaintances or retirees of the businesses they’re working for and they’re opening up basements for them to live in, just so they have something for a period of time,” he says.

The state senate could soon vote on House Bill 4722, which says communities must allow up to 30% of their housing stock to be used as vacation rentals.

“It’s hard to imagine the devastation that would have,” Schnell says. “It would be near impossible for the local workforce to afford to live in this community.”

If the bill passes, he estimates other programs to increase housing, like subsidizing building costs, would also be impacted.

“The supply will be so low, the demand will be so high it becomes even harder for them to justify investing taxpayer dollars,” Schnell says.

But other people in Boyne City think short-term rentals are a great benefit to the community.

Mike Castiglione is the owner of Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen. His business had a successful summer with more visitors up north and he now plans to grow his catering business and open a taproom.

Interlochen Public Radio

“You love to see more local families in town,” Castiglione says. “But you do need some tourists to come in and bring in some money to support local businesses as well to keep that town growing and to keep jobs for year-round people to live too.”

Still, Castiglione sees how his staff struggles with their commutes, because they can’t afford anything in town. He thinks the solution is to build more homes, but admits high building costs make that hard right now.

Vacation rental operators like Lindsay Verwys say there aren’t enough places to accommodate people who want to come to the Boyne City area.

“Even if every home in Boyne City turned to a rental you would still need more. We don’t have hotels. We have a nice small one down here and we have condos,” says Verwys.

Verwys manages 18 vacation properties through her company Boyneland Vacation Rentals. She owns two homes on her block and sometimes she rents the front of her house to vacationers.

Most of the homes Verwys manages are seasonal and with her business she employs five people. The way she sees it, she’s benefiting her community.

“People are still going to buy that are from out of the area because housing is relatively inexpensive here compared to a Chicago suburb,” Verwys says. “They can get a home on the lake or near the lake and then they are going to buy it and it’s going to sit vacant in the off-season.”

This summer a handful of locals asked the city to consider regulating short-term rentals.

Sharon MacJennett was one of them. She says her residential neighborhood near Lake Charlevoix now feels like a commercial district, with just about every other house on her block a vacation rental.

“At one time you knew your neighbors, you knew their kids, you knew the names of the dogs. You’d see kids playing in the street. That whole idea of a neighborhood is gone,” MacJennett says.

She says visitors trespass on her property and leave beer bottles in her yard.

The city spent $7,000 to hire a company to find out how many vacation rentals were operating and where they are.

Boyne City’s manager Michael Cain says now they’re waiting to see what Lansing decides. Cain says residents do want to share the town’s offerings with visitors, but they also want to make sure it can stay the close-knit community they love.

“Whatever comes in the future we want to make sure that we’re Boyne City and not just Anyplace, USA.”

Copyright 2021 Interlochen Public Radio. To see more, visit Interlochen Public Radio.

IPR's Taylor Wizner is passionate about empowering communities through solid reporting.
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