To the Editor:
Frankly, I’m at a loss to understand the bitterness in a Viewpoint last week by New Jersey resident Barbara Cusumano. Undoubtedly, the first reaction of some who read it some might be to caution her to keep an eye on the proverbial door on the way out.
Her suggestion that the people of Bar Harbor are hoping to “break the backs” of second homeowners such as herself by adopting common-sense restrictions on vacation rentals, as communities all over Maine and country have done, falls far, far from reality. She frets over “the plummeting value of real estate,” when in fact inventory is at an all-time low and “crazy-money” prices continue to set records.
Under the changes as proposed, her rental property could continue to be used as an absentee-owner vacation rental in perpetuity. And especially where any residential property can be rented monthly, we’re not talking about a pending wave of economic hardship, financial loss or ruin. Rather, her argument is about her disappointment in a theoretical rate of return on a business. That just proves the point of folks who desire this community to be about houses being homes for hard–working people, our teachers, nurses, police and firefighters, instead of more and more being lost to investors. Sure, absentee owners may be parking money here, but being a true member of the community also requires investing the “sweat equity,” to understand the culture and the values that makes this such a special place to live.
Those who buy and hold investments property so they can one day retire here need to understand that what they do with it has far–reaching consequences for the kind of community they will find once they move up permanently. When more and more properties become vacation rentals and remain empty all winter, the community is slowly hollowed out from the inside. Without action, Bar Harbor and similar Maine communities run the risk of being driven to become exactly what those who want to move here are trying to escape.
The current proposals set a cap on the total number of non-owner-occupied vacation rentals to ensure that the hollowing will not extend beyond the point of no return. Under the law of supply and demand, passage would actually make Ms. Cusumano’s property more valuable, not less.
In the end, it is disappointing when people fortunate enough to be able to own two or more homes cannot seem to comprehend the situations of their future friends and neighbors for whom the furtive dream of owning one house remains out of reach, in no small part because the demand for second homes as investments has pushed prices sky high.
In looking at where the battle lines are being drawn in this debate, it is interesting to note that they seem to break along financial contours with those who moan and bray the loudest on social media, and those who stand to profit most from the plan’s defeat, being representatives of commercial interests — the real estate and financial services industries. Yes, it is their right. But don’t be fooled by arguments that it’s a property owner rights issue or similar conspiracy of Trumpian proportions. Be honest. It’s about the money.
As we consider adopting prudent and well-thought out vacation rental changes to repel the creeping commodification of Bar Harbor, we need to value creating an equitable, sustainable future that benefits the broadest segment of the public and not surrender to pressure to prioritize private, pecuniary gain.