Some say Airbnbs are worsening Juneau’s housing crunch

A photo of downtown Juneau taken from the roof of a building
Downtown Juneau in 2018. (Matt Miller/KTOO)

The scramble for housing in Juneau is in full swing, as it is each spring. 

Lawmakers and their staff are still in town, and seasonal tourism and cannery workers are starting to move in. And, thanks to a growing number of short-term rentals like Airbnbs, it could be even more of a challenge for people looking for a place to live. 

Realtor Kelly Moore says this housing crunch is worse than ever.

“Everybody has said that this is typical of this season, but nothing like this. Nothing on this scale,” Moore said.

It’s especially hard for people like Bonilyn Parker. 

Last month, she and her husband received a notice from their landlord that they had six weeks to move out of the place they’ve lived in for more than two years. Their apartment is going to be turned into an Airbnb for summer tourists, which is likely to be more lucrative than its use as a long-term rental.

“Looking for long-term rentals as a local or looking for a single-family home has just been like the struggle of my life,” Parker said.

She tried to ask the property owners to let them stay just until they can move into their next home, but they said no. They may have nowhere to live starting May 1.

“We’ve been really, really panicking about where the heck are we going to live,” Parker said. 

Juneau Assembly Member Carole Triem says the housing issue is becoming critical. 

“We’re kind of reaching, for certain people, like a crisis level of housing here in Juneau, where there’s just not enough housing,” Triem said.

She points to some Juneau-specific reasons housing is hard to come by, like geography and seasonal tourism. 

“The city is built on the side of a mountain. So here’s just not that many places to build like that, where it’s easy and cheap to build more housing,” she said. “And then also, the side of a mountain comes with a lot of risks like avalanches and landslides. So it’s even more expensive to build and buy housing.” 

City data shows that businesses registering as Airbnb registrations have been increasing in past years, but because these registrations are submitted per owner and not per unit, exact numbers of Airbnb rentals aren’t available. 

Last year, the city gave a tax break for new long-term rental units downtown to try to create more housing that wouldn’t sit empty as Airbnbs. But that hasn’t helped people like Angelique Buzzek. 

Buzzek moved to town to be closer to her daughter and new grandchild. Her husband quickly found a job, working IT for a university. 

They’ve been here for five months but haven’t found a long-term place to live. Buzzek has a service dog, and that has prevented her from being considered for the apartments she has seen. 

“And all you see on Facebook now for rentals is ‘we need, we need,’ and like there’s nothing here for anybody,” she said.

So far, they’ve been staying in shorter-term accommodations, like Airbnbs. But they don’t have anything lined up for May. She says her plan right now is to get a tent and find a place to camp.

Assembly member Triem says she expects that the city government will be discussing the housing crisis and counting the number of Airbnbs in the coming weeks. 

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