Is there a U.S. city of any size with a healthy affordable housing supply near its downtown? It’s misguided math to assume Asheville’s affordable housing issue can be solved by reining in a few hundred homeowners with attached dwelling units or short-term rental houses? What’s really going on in the fervent opposition to STRs?
Consider the “erosion of the fabric of our neighborhoods” argument frequently cited to uphold the ban on STRs. Are we talking about borrowing a cup of stevia, sharing limited parking and trading garden flowers? Let’s stop envisaging the Portlandia version of Asheville neighborhoods.
If you’re lucky and friendly, you might get good neighbors for a few years before you outgrow each other or somebody moves. For real emergencies, 911 is probably [safer] than any neighbor you might call. Even in a home-invasion scenario, where you are about to have a very bad day, you better have either an alarm or a gun, whether or not your friendly neighbors are home or your street is full of empty STRs!
Or maybe “fabric” means potential friends. Did you interview the neighbors before you bought your house? Maybe since the Kenilworth/West Asheville/Montford residents’ profile is primarily white/educated/professional/retired/young families, you felt kindred spirits awaited you? There is veiled racism in this argument of wanting to keep the fabric of our neighborhoods. It’s comfortable to live among your tribe, whether that be of the same race, economic strata, education level, age range, etc. But unless your tribe buys all the houses on your street, you don’t get to pick your neighbors, or how they use their private property.
In my neighborhood, when someone needs help, whoever is home helps out. We’re neighbors with benefits, not obligations. I admit I am bothered by the family owning the house next door, smoking outside all hours of the day, year round. I have second-hand smoke with my coffee, my barbecue, my star gazing. Yet all I can do is be neighborly. If it was a STR, I’d have a smoke-free deck most of the time. Instant life improvement.
If people want to have paying overnight guests, short term or long term, that’s their business, especially when the impact to neighbors is minimal at best.
Seven houses down from me there are another seven houses filled with people I have never met. They could be wealthy, Wiccan or wheelchair-bound. They’re neighbor strangers, and I respect their privacy. I may wish to tell you I enjoy your garden, but if I never see you, it doesn’t diminish my enjoyment. I live here by choice, in a house I can afford in a city I want to reside in. If everybody on my block moved out or started a STR, I wouldn’t sell my house.
We have dozens of ordinances that protect against noise, trash, unsafe conditions, etc. It’s paranoid to think neighborhoods are going to “hollow out” and become full of empty houses catering to tourists. We’re not New York or San Francisco with off-the-charts housing costs and not enough supply to meet the demand. Times are divisive enough. We don’t need neighbors turning in neighbors because they are jealous of STR income earned, or bothered by an occasional party or if they’re not on the A-list for free eggs from backyard chickens.
The [city’s ADU] task force noted that some STR owners own more than their primary residence, as context for stating that STR income is not always due to financial hardship. I own a house eight states away that I have rented short term for 17 years. I use it three times a year to see family, and rental income is how I pay my mortgage and maintain family connections. Many people use second homes/STRs for flexibility and to produce income for life’s current and future options and challenges. Their crime? Violating an ordinance that says they can’t let people pay them for accommodations of less than 30 days. Hosting guests is the second oldest profession in the world and an outdated ordinance says you can’t do it here in Asheville. Ludicrous.
Were city inspectors partners in these violations when they gave “green tickets” to help us get our short-term rentals code-compliant? Nobody imagined the city might enforce a ban it had ignored for years and many, like myself, never knew the ban existed. What about selective enforcement? Is the city unaware that in many of the homestay permits issued, a stove is removed prior to the inspection and put back once the permit is granted? Can’t we get beyond this foolishness?
The sharing economy was born 20-plus years after the now-outdated ban was introduced. STRs are legal in the Central Business District, and two blocks over, they’re not. We’re adding 1,000 hotel rooms downtown and telling people four blocks from South Slope they can’t rent their garage apartment on the weekends. We need progressive zoning, not regressive regulations.
What has the city done with the tax revenue being generated by STRs? It’s a lot of money. Is it legal/ethical to receive funds on a practice that is banned by an ordinance? The city is spending money to enforce a ban instead of recognizing a revenue source that can be regulated to benefit a lot of people.
STR owners [whom] I know agree the city should put regulations in place, require permits and insurance, limit the number of them and/or grandfather existing ones, require residency ownership or management, continue to collect taxes, etc. Let’s stop this nonsense and find a solution.
— Asheville resident
Editor’s note: At the letter writer’s request, Xpress is withholding the person’s name so as not to jeopardize the writer’s livelihood and to allow for a fuller discussion of this public policy issue.