By Leslee Kulba- Here I sit at a beautiful Airbnb. It’s on a beautifully-landscaped lake, and the sun just came out. I’ve previously enjoyed Airbnbs for reasons oft-repeated in public hearings. For one thing, I would never travel if I had to pay more than $100 a night at a hotel. I used to enjoy staying at a particular motel chain, but the last few bookings, in various places, had very creepy parking lots with needles and people lurking and shouting. Locals told me I was staying in an irreputable place.
Things change, and so looking for accommodations this time, I went online to read reviews. Comments for all the affordable motels spoke of urine stenches and stains, roaches, flying bugs that sting, no hot water, frightening people and behavior in the parking lot. If I slept in the car, at least there wouldn’t be any roaches. But, contrary to all the brilliant news reports; vagrancy, public intoxication, and panhandling appear to be worse than ever wherever I go.
So, it occurred to me: People will be less likely to let roaches run wild in their houses, and if they do, Airbnb reviewers will make it known. So, I booked this clean, modern place with a lovely backdrop to write my city council articles for this week.
As you may have guessed, the neighbors are livid. This foreigner comes in and reads staff reports and types on a laptop. Property values are cascading – Not. In actual fact, the pack of drunk and boisterous neighborhood boys in Walgreen’s at 8am this morning was more frightening.
This is a long lead-up to a request to live and let live. Government leaders frequently speak about the need to plan ahead for growth, a “need” that is often overshadowed by established business interests lobbying to undercut market disrupters.
Demand is, almost by definition, indicative of future trends. Milllennials, like it or not, are living in the gig economy. Many of the best and brightest drift from project to project and city to city. WeWork has found it profitable to rent office space short-term in most major cities. To close options for entrepreneurs incentivizes them and their gigs to locate places more friendly to change.
Another complaint city staff charged was that short-term rentals are a business, not a residential activity. Landlords and banks also collect money from people who just want a space to live for awhile. The city has chosen to view what are now called short-term vacation rentals as a business, and, therefore, do what cities do and require permits. The concept works somewhat like indulgences in Medieval times: If you buy a piece of paper, it absolves you from the crime of doing business.
Well, it’s not that simple. For example, kitchens can’t have sinks deeper than 18 inches, and refrigerators have to have more than five cubic feet of storage capacity. And, you also need to check the city’s codes to see what kind of rentals are allowed under what conditions in your district; it’s so intuitively unobvious, city staff are still trying to figure it out.
Councilor Keith Young was the only person to vote against the measure on council’s agenda. The printed staff reports billed the subject as a wording amendment to clean up definitions and standards “for all lodging uses.” The reports claimed the motivation was to address the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals downtown. But the public discussion Tuesday made it sound like council was passing a resolution to ban un-grandfathered STVR’s in the Central Business District as a use by right.
That means, people can ask council for a permit, but Young called attention to the likelihood anybody would get a permit from what has demonstratively been an overwhelmingly anti- council. Not speaking abjectly against the idea, he took a more politically-savvy route of objecting to the piecemeal approach council is taking with regulating STVR’s. A few members of the public spoke about the haste with which council was passing this ordinance, as if council was trying to grant a special favor under the wire.
The staff reports told of proliferation and developers working around existing ordinances. Instead of doing its job and interdicting fraud and abuse, which includes saying no to requests that government grant special privileges, council is in the business of regulating culture, defining neighborhoods, and nailing-down that concept for all time in spite of evolving technology.
It’s not the occasional house guest that tears down property values. It’s the revelry. Asheville wants to be a tourist destination for beer drinkers, and the best way to do this, if we follow the logic, is to keep geeks who can’t afford hotels out. I’m not sure how many lives I’ve devastated while writing this article. I’m not snooping into the neighbors’ business to find out.