Vacation rentals often cited as community looks to solve Cook County’s housing crunch
Rhonda Silence

Vacation rentals often cited as community looks to solve Cook County’s housing crunch

It’s difficult to find a place to live in Cook County.

This is not a new sentiment for local residents, or those hoping to move to the remote and scenic county in the far reaches of northeastern Minnesota.

And while it’s not a new phenomenon, it appears to be getting more complex.

Across the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted how people work, with many employers opting to have their employees work from home. This trend carries on today, allowing some workers the opportunity to choose where they live while working remotely.

It’s a phenomenon that realtors across the country are referring to as ‘Zoom towns.’

The running narrative of the notion goes like this: We like vacationing in this place. I am working from home now. Let’s forget the conveniences of living in a metro area and live in the place we like the most.

One place in Minnesota that fits this description is Cook County. With Lake Superior on one side Highway 61, and the expansive Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the other, the natural amenities and variety of options for outdoor recreation are abundant in the region. Making the area more appealing for remote workers is the extensive network of high speed internet available to most properties in the county.

People moving to Cook County as part of the Zoom town phenomenon are playing a role in driving up local real estate prices. Homes continue to sell quickly in Cook County, with some properties selling within 24 hours.

In related news, many Cook County homeowners saw their property values go up for taxes payable in 2023.

The average increase in property value for most Cook County homeowners was 31 percent, according to County Assessor Bob Thompson.

Local officials say a significant reason for the increase in property values is due to a booming real estate market in Cook County.

As the real estate market continues to stay hot, a lack of housing options persists and property values rise, some community members are pointing to the short term rental industry as a reason for the problematic situation.

According to the Cook County Land Services Department, there were 239 short-term rentals in Cook County at the end of 2021. This represents a downward trend in the number of vacation rental properties in the county, based on data from officials in the land services department.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Mike Larson and Steve Surbaugh from Cook County based Cascade Vacation Rentals about this topic. Also discussed are the history of Cook County’s housing stock shortage and what steps the community is taking to address the ongoing situation.

Larson and Surbaugh contend that the short-term rental industry is not the reason for the current housing shortage in Cook County. They say a housing stock shortage dates back decades, to at least the mid-80s, if not earlier.

Listen to their full conversation in the audio shared below.