Brendan O'Brien

The frontier next door: How short-term rentals affect housing in western mountain towns

The frontier next door: How short-term rentals affect housing in western mountain towns by Brendan O'Brien
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nonfiction History, Travel
For readers of:Tracy Kidder, Ishmael Beah, Catherine Ryan Hyde, John Steinbeck
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About the Book


Short-term rental (STR) platforms like Airbnb increasingly offer entire homes for most of the year. Mounting evidence in large U.S. cities shows that this places them in competition with long-term housing options. To examine the impact of STRs on smaller, tourism-driven cities, this research uses Flagstaff (Arizona), Bozeman (Montana), and St. George (Utah) as case studies.

This research utilizes a political ecology theoretical framework to examine these three cities as part of the “New West” economy, a trend in which municipalities in the 11 contiguous western states protect natural amenities to grow their economies. Through extensive interviews with officials in each city, this research shows that STRs have seen limited restrictions despite widespread acknowledgement that they have exerted significant pressure on local housing markets.

Although digital STR platforms are relatively new, this research argues that STRs should be understood as part of a long-standing frontier imaginary whereby blank spaces are created for outsiders willing and able to pay more, in this case tourists and second homeowners. This research traces five distinct frontiers throughout U.S. history which opened previously settled places to outside wealth, identifying STRs as part of the current “financialization of home.”

Building on proposals from interviewees and strategies of other cities, this research closes by arguing for a change in attitudes and policies which ensure locals are benefiting from, not competing with, outside visitation.

About the Author

Brendan O'Brien grew up in Davenport, Iowa but has lived in various parts of the Midwest and West. His experience in these places and travels abroad have produced a unique lens through which he sees the world. He uses his writing to focus attention on overlooked issues and attempt to amplify the voices of those seldom heard. He can usually be found with his head buried in a book or out hiking.

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