Where have all the houses gone? Gone to tourists, every one. (How short-term rentals have worsened Venice Beach’s rental crisis.)

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On any summer weekend, Venice Beach is the ultimate urban beach carnival: exhilarating, loud, funky and diverse. No wonder Ocean Front Walk is one of the state’s premier attractions: It’s amazing entertainment and it’s 100% free.

But unlike other tourist spots — say Disneyland or Universal CityWalk — Venice is still primarily a residential neighborhood. Because of that, Venice has become an epicenter of Los Angeles’ struggle over short-term rentals, what you might call the Airbnb Problem.

To get a sense of it, I took what some local housing activists have dubbed a “Lost Housing” tour of Venice on Saturday afternoon. Over the course of four hours, I visited half a dozen buildings on or very close to the Boardwalk that have been converted, without permits, from long-term rental apartments to short-term rentals, or — yes — let’s call them what they really are: hotels.

If you are wondering why the rental housing market in a place like Venice Beach is so tight, look no further than your nearest laptop. Fire it up and find dozens of websites advertising hotels and houses “just steps from the sand.”

All his tenants eventually left voluntarily, he said, and he began investing money to create what his website describes as “a boutique hotel offering 24 fully-furnished queen-bed studios with mini-kitchens & private bathrooms and exposed red-brick walls & hardwood floors in the heart of Venice Beach.”

Unlike some of the other landlords the city is going after, said Layman, “I am a small, independent mom-and-pop operated property. It’s the only property I have.”

Maybe so, but he turned his apartment house into a hotel, and only asked for permission after the city sued him.

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I called Roy Samaan, a research and policy analyst for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a progressive outfit that pushed hard for a city minimum wage increase in 2015. Also that year, Samaan wrote a deeply researched report on the ill effects that short-term rentals were having on neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

I asked him the obvious obnoxious question: Venice is expensive now. Why shouldn’t landlords be able to get rid of rent-stabilized tenants in order to maximize profits?

There are two answers, he said. The first one is practical, the second existential.

First, the city has developed processes — neighborhood councils, hearings, permits, etc., — that are meant to govern land use. You can’t just take a rent-stabilized apartment house off the market because you feel like starting a hotel.

As to the second issue: “It comes down to why people want to go to Venice in the first place,” Samaan said. “There’s a lot of coastline but Venice is a hot spot, it’s unique, and you have to ask why. If we continue to lose affordable housing and move people out, you change what makes Venice Venice.”

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robin.abcarian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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