Folly Beach is in the throes of a political battle that wages real estate interests versus residents who would prefer Folly remain a community rather than become a resort destination.
Two competing collectives have formed, Saving Folly’s Future and the Folly United, which employs the shaka “hang loose” hand signal as its logo.
I certainly understand real estate investors wanting to expand their net worth and protect their investments. However, I wish they’d make their case without resorting to misinformation.
My friend Chris Bizzell has taken the time to analyze some of the erroneous information from the flyer that Folly United recently distributed and from the Folly United web site.
First, Folly United argues that Folly Beach residences have grown 2% per year since 2015; however, even though the number of houses, i.e., residences have grown, the number of full-time residents has fallen, as shown in the chart below.
Chris provides the following analysis:Based on the latest 2022 data from the US census, the current population of Folly Beach is 2,056.
What was the peak population of Folly Beach?
The peak population of Folly Beach was in 2010, when its population was 2,617.
Folly Beach’s population is currently 21.4% smaller than it was in 2010 and 6.0% smaller since the year 2000.
In fact, Folly Beach’s growth is below average. 63% of similarly sized cities are growing faster since 2000. If the STR market is not capped, we can easily expect Folly’s full-time population to decrease further.
The flyer also contends that fewer short-term rentals will lead to higher crime rates because the properties are left empty.
While studies do show that empty properties can lead to higher crime rates, this has nothing to do with STR levels. In fact, a new study shows that a proliferation of Airbnbs, or similar short-term rentals, in a neighborhood contributes to higher rates of crime in the area.
The study compiled 911 data from 2011-2018 determined that higher STR properties in a community does in fact lead to higher crime rates. A major finding in the report was that certain violent crimes, including fights, robberies, and reports of someone wielding a knife, tended to increase in a neighborhood a year or more after the number of Airbnbs increased. “What seems to be the problem is that Airbnb is taking households off the social network of the neighborhood and eroding its natural capacity to manage crime,” says O’Brien, who also studies criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern.
“What we’re seeing is evidence of a slower process, one that becomes significant over the years,” Babak Heydari (associate professor at Northeastern and author of the study) says. “It’s another support that changing the social fabric of the neighborhood is what’s undergirding these results.”
Folly United’s web site has a page entitled “Did You Know,” that ends with incredible bit of so-called information:
The STR commission discovered that STR had NO impact on the number of Long term rentals and no impact on population growth. INCONVENIENT FACTS that have repeatedly ignored.
C’mon, commonsense tells us that this couldn’t be true. As off-island owners transform their properties from long term to short term rentals the renters who called Folly home are replaced by vacationers.
As more properties are converted to STR’s, the supply of available housing open for long-term renters and homeowners shrinks. With housing in short supply, everyone ends up competing for the same tiny pool of rental properties and rents increase.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that Airbnb “mildly cannibalizes” the long-term rental supply. And in the cities they studied where Airbnb was popular, residents faced a more severe reduction in housing stock.
Research at the University of Arizona and University of Denver found that Airbnb is indeed making the real estate market more expensive. By enriching its hosts while making housing less affordable for others, Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms may be compromising public affordability for private wealth, the research suggests. “It’s going to increase the gap between the rich and the poor,” Wei says. “It’s going to make inequality a little worse.”
The study concluded: “STR’s have become a major alternative for real estate investment and have had a significant impact on housing affordability.”
We can learn by looking at what has happened in other vacation destinations.
In Colorado ski towns, the demand for short term rentals and the increase in supply of STR’s are growing at such a rate that it is displacing local residents of the towns they are supposed to serve.
Margaret Bowes, Colorado Association of Ski Towns executive director, says that the perfect solution to the crisis is still not within reach. “The trajectory of the number of properties becoming (short-term rentals) is not sustainable,” according to Bowes. She adds that at the current rate, no one working in the said communities will be able to live in them.
Look, like I said earlier, I understand that property owners, especially those who don’t live on the island, want to increase their wealth, and certainly, if you live in your Folly residence nine months out if the year, you should be able to rent it short term and that goes for adjacent properties. However, we’re not talking about eliminating short term rentals but capping them, creating a happy symbiosis between full time residents and vacationers.
But, please, don’t resort to cherry picking data and resorting to misinformation to make arguments.
 Cue George Orwell: “Yes, war is peace!” If Folly were united, there would be no issue, and nothing screams “hang loose” and the aloha spirit like frenetically placing signs in the yards of short-term rentals that read “Don’t Cap Folly’s Future,” as if Folly is sentient being that would prefer to have its few remaining lots clear cut for the construction of McMansions than maintain a verdant residential vibe.