The latest in the Airbnb story was follow-up on whether or not city council would allow homeowners to rent out accessory dwelling units short-term. ADU’s are standalone rentals like mother-in-law apartments or garage apartments. Council had previously decided to ban their use as Airbnb’s on the assumption that homeowners can’t patrol wild parties in them as well as they can when only a room is rented.
Council voted 4-3 against allowing ADU’s to rent short-term. Councilman Gordon Smith spoke at length, quoting statistics on local housing. He made the motion to deny allowing ADU’s to be used as Airbnb’s, largely on the grounds that they should be rented long-term to address the affordable housing crisis. Earlier in the meeting, Smith had procured council approval to direct staff to explore an affordable housing requirement for big box stores.
Cecil Bothwell, Keith Young, and Brian Haynes voted against the measure. Bothwell made a number of solid economic arguments. For example, the economy was bad, people needed money, wages were not commensurate with housing prices, and black markets mutate to avoid regulation. Young was supportive, though he said he had no sympathy for people middle-class enough to own a home and suggested some Airbnb’s were needed because people had overextended themselves.
Smith also made a motion to establish a task force to explore alternatives for existing and new short-term rentals, like caps, grandfathering-in, a cooling off period, transferability, and permitting review. This motion passed unanimously.
In an arduous and protracted public comment period, council heard every possible consideration. Capturing a number of arguments colorfully was Jonathan Wainscott. Following a personal story illustrating why it was easier to evict guests than tenants, he said the following.
“Affordable housing. The reason we don’t have affordable housing is location, location, location; and Asheville is the hottest location that there is. And we collect money from the hotels to pay the tourism board to go out there and advertise that this is the best place to retire, it’s the best place to get healthy, it’s the best place to kayak, to drink beer, to make beer, to drink beer again.
“You can’t do anything with the room tax? Sure you can. You know what you should do if you were concerned about affordable housing is cut it to zero, because all we’re doing is creating more hype for Asheville and paying for it. Tell the hoteliers to keep the room rate at the same rate and take that 6 percent and put it all into your labor costs at the lowest tier first. Then, you’ll get some real wages in here.
“The tourism authority is doing nothing but creating unaffordable housing. And the people who are trying to get by on Airbnb – If you think that you’re going to take Airbnb from them and they’re going to make it an affordable place to rent for people? That isn’t going to happen.
“I bought my house in 1999 in a neighborhood that I expected to see change. It changed quite a lot, lots of homes, lots of infill, less parking, more traffic, and now there’s a 100,000-person-a-year tourist attraction that I can hit with a 9 iron from my backyard. So, the disruptions of neighborhoods and the expectation that you’re going to buy a house and it’s never going to change isn’t something that anybody has a right to. Neighborhoods change, sometimes by way of having a beer factory put right in it.
“So, I don’t think that I’m going to be told that I’m supposed to put up with the construction noises of New Belgium, have all of this money and incentives thrown into it, collect money from the hoteliers, have every public official in town put their foot on the gas pedal of the tourism bandwagon totally to the floor. And the reason that we’re told this is gonna be great is because it’s going to give prosperity to the citizenry. Now here’s some ability for the citizenry to participate in that prosperity, and we can’t do it?
“The young man who is destined to be a renter his whole life. You know what he could do perhaps if Airbnb were “legal” instead of “illegal,” is that he could put on his financial form when he goes to buy a house that he has got Airbnb income thereby offsetting his debt-to-income ratio. And your starter home may not be a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom home because of course nobody’s building those because the land value in Asheville is so high.
I have a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house. It was built in 1925. Nobody’s building 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom houses when a lot is $75,000. So, maybe the way to get into the market is to buy more house than you would traditionally have in the first place, Airbnb it until your family grows or something else happens. This allows flexibility in a place where we struggle for people to make any kind of wages. For you to be taking wages out of the hands of homeowners is incredulous to me.
“It’s not a microhotel. The difference between a homestay and a microhotel is a microhotel is owned by a corporation. The home part is homeowner. Homeownership and telling people, the homeowners, what they can and can’t do is getting to be a little absurd.
Finally, we don’t need an enforcement policy. We don’t need people to go and run around town on complaints that come from the other side of town because they’re on the Internet finding out that you’re doing this illegally. If there’s noise at your house, talk to the homeowner. If the homeowner is not amenable, call the police. If this is a nuisance problem, we have a nuisance abatement program when it comes to renters. If the landlord is slapped as a nuisance problem, the county will get rid of the tenants.
“We have everything that we need. If there’s a loud party, call the police. We don’t need more staff. We don’t need to allocate more funds to police people in their house. If the Flotsampeppers from Duluth are visiting my house for the weekend, it’s none of your business if they’re here for a funeral because they’re my family members or whether they’re here to enjoy all the beer that you’ve paid to convince them to come to enjoy.”