Sandra Haugen can tell you how tight the rental market is in Siskiyou County. She’s the property manager for 225 long- and short-term rentals throughout the county. Right now she’s got seven long-term rentals available – that’s just a little better than the four she had last summer.

Dunsmuir’s Jim Powell can tell you firsthand how tight the rental market is in his town. A big burly fellow, he grew up in Dunsmuir and puts in long hours as a landscape gardener. In recent years he’s struggled to find a place to live for his family of four.

“It scares the hell out of me that I may not be able to live in my own town,” he says.

He considered moving to Redding three years ago during a frustrating, six-month-long effort to find a place to rent. He finally found a three-bedroom house on the south side of town, but that place will be going up for sale in July, and Powell has started looking for a home again. He figures he’ll need the extra time, and probably some luck, to find one.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and finding a place to live has never been an issue before,” says Powell, who’s 50.

It probably doesn’t help that a large number of homes, some of them potential rentals, sit vacant most of the year because their owners’ primary residence is elsewhere – Redding, the Bay Area, Sacramento. Haugen estimates that about a third of the single-family homes in Dunsmuir and Mount Shasta fit into this “second home” category. Based on 2017 census estimates, that would be about 300 homes in Dunsmuir and 1,000 in the greater Mount Shasta area.

Vacation rentals, which include airbnbs, are sometimes cited as another factor reducing the number of available rentals. Based on available numbers, though, their potential impact on the rental market is not as significant as that of second homes. Currently in Dunsmuir, upwards of 40 airbnbs are being offered on the Internet. In Mount Shasta, 33 property owners have paid an annual fee to allow them to offer short-term rentals, according to City Manager Bruce Pope.

Mount Shasta bans airbnbs from single-family residential neighborhoods. Sacramento won’t allow more than six people to stay in an airbnb. Both these measures aim at maintaining the peace and quiet of residential neighborhoods. Mount Shasta’s ordinance could also have another result: By removing the airbnb option from neighborhoods, it makes it more likely that second-home property owners will rent out their homes instead.

Dunsmuir currently has no restrictions on the location of airbnbs. Like Mount Shasta, it taxes them on the same basis as motels and hotels.

Phil O’Leary, who runs the food pantry at the Dunsmuir Community Resource Center, worked out his own creative solution to the rental crunch. Faced with a lack of rentals and what he calls “skyrocketing rents,” he worked out an arrangement with an elderly lady to move into her next door duplex, for no or low rent, in exchange for helping out with chores around the property.

So far in his current search Powell has found one possible rental, but at $900 a month it was beyond his budget. So he’ll keep looking.

“It used to be you could be a little choosy about where you rented – not too close to the railroad tracks or too near the freeway,” he says. “But those days are gone.”