Letter writer: City and county should leave Airbnb alone

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Graphic by Lori Deaton

I’m writing to discourage the city of Asheville and Buncombe County from interfering with and regulating Airbnb hosts and guests [Leveling the Playing Field, June 17, Xpress]. I beseech the county and city government to just collect new, passive income from Airbnb and drop the rest. I’m also here to inspire the 1,810 local Airbnb hosts to resist new potentially “proactive” regulations and departments. Contact commissioners and council members now, lest we end up like New York City, gathering signatures and lawyers in the aftermath of stifling policies regulating harmless use of our homes as we see fit (see http://www.lifeedited.com/save-airbnb-in-nyc/).

Based on info in the Mountain Xpress article, I wish to influence the local governments’ direction on this and debunk alleged “issues” that are referenced. I also call out the hoteliers and Realtors for publishing trumped-up whining and spin. Here are some things to consider.

Hoteliers, like any business, should not have government protection from more nimble competition. They offer a more sumptuous or regulated experience. Airbnb serves thousands of other visitors who want a different experience. There is no honest need to discourage a hosteling system that is a wonderfully functional win-win-win for so many. The Internet and nimble sharing economy will continue to grow in our lifetimes; why discourage prosperous participation and grassroots economy? There may be some complaints, but there is tons of praise.

Couchsurfing.org and other similar sites have been around as long as the Internet, and before the Internet in other forms. People have peacefully couch-surfed and home-shared in Asheville and Buncombe County for years, parking their cars and utilizing rooms and non-rooms of all sizes, time stays and zoning categories. This fact alone should prove that all the hype now is only because the sharing economy of Airbnb generates a covetable revenue stream.

The concept of creating a “level playing field” is untenable. How could someone possibly “level” a sumptuous Victorian bed-and-breakfast suite with an Airbnb flat spot in the yard for a tent? Or my own humble offering of a room in a basement with twin bed, sewing machine and storage boxes? There is no maid, matching decor, lovely antiques, view, breakfast, beautiful landscaping or chocolates on the pillow, and [there is] a good possibility my housekeeping standards are lower then the guests’. Friends and family regularly, safely, and without disturbing neighbors, stay in the same place for free. By the way, an Airbnb guest who saves $500 staying with me often enjoys spending the money in the area on beer, food, merchandise and event tickets.

If Airbnb neighbors are inconvenienced by guests, the complaint-based systems are in place for them to report their difficulty. Besides, the peer review on Airbnb makes it easy to vet out any disrespectful or questionable guests, and bad situations are rare and avoidable. There is really no problem here big enough to justify a whole new department — oh yeah, the covetable revenue stream.

Shortage of affordable and plentiful housing? Oh, please — this is such blatant spin. I came here in the early ‘80s when the area boasted natural beauty and low cost-of-living. The first rental I stayed in was $100/month for a small house. I can verify that becoming more affordable has not been our direction for 35 years. The area is now so expensive and gentrified on its own appeal and expanding population that implicating Airbnb is an exaggeration to justify intervention. A rental cottage in the backyard is the only way some can afford to live here now. If affordable housing is a big concern, cutting taxes and business fees is always an option, just sayin’. Then perhaps hotels and landlords could lower their rates if they feel they have too many empty rooms.

Airbnb provides local, organic, sustainable housing for an eager market. To limit or control this is standard crony capitalism and government “fee and fine,” stifling prosperity and choice. This whole situation is a small but perfect example of how government fails, discourages entrepreneurship and oppresses service providers with made-up burdens. What if every other license-purchasing business that feels the sting of Internet and shared economy losses came to complain and lobby for protection? What if Ingles came to lobby for tailgate market “leveling?” Or the newspapers about their Internet-lost revenue?

I predict this potential new city system/department described in Mountain Xpress (being developed) will be a complicated time sink full of appeals and annoyance. Should municipal coffers bleed to inspect my hallways and basement room? Why entangle? Really, this is a fabrication to tax/fine a newly discovered private revenue stream and appease a hotel lobby. If you are going to follow through and set up such an unnecessary department, have the honesty to call it what it is — protectionism and extortion.

Speaking of revenue streams, the city will now be getting regular checks from Airbnb — nice, passive income, thanks to hosts like me and many of you reading this. Here’s a shoutout to all 1,810 hosts (979 city and 831 county). Let’s band together and form our own protection lobby — we have numbers and new leverage providing the city a chunk of revenue from Airbnb.

The city of Asheville and Buncombe County are not in the hotel/hosting business. Consider the great value of dropping this and staying unentangled. Don’t fix what is not broken. Put the new Airbnb revenue into repairing streets and sidewalks; that will benefit everyone.

Be more visionary, city and county! Airbnb is a brilliant platform that visitors love and enables a grassroots, eco-safe economy at its best. It utilizes our existing capital to generate prosperity to more people for less, and the consumer has the power of choice. Participants in the sharing/humanity economy have created something truly wonderful. Mayor [Esther] Manheimer observed that cities around the country have dealt with this trend in different ways. I suggest Asheville and Buncombe County deal with it by doing nothing; it is a good thing.

— Laurie Fisher

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5 thoughts on “Letter writer: City and county should leave Airbnb alone

  1. cathyb

    Great letter, airbnb and well structured neighbor friendly vacation rentals add to the diversity of our community.

  2. Resident

    If you’ve been reading,the city doesn’t get room tax money, it goes to the tourism development authority who just got permission to raise the rate. I for one don’t care if some is couch surfing at my neighbor’s house but I sure don’t care to have 5-7 out town cares blocking my street every weekend and taking up parking. Besides, there actually are investors out here who buy up places just for renting like this…..guess what? That house isn’t available for rent to someone who wants to live/work here, thereby tightening supply, driving up costs….you know, all that free market stuff. It’s actually nice to live somewhere where you get to know the neighbors….its called a community.

  3. “I wish to influence the local governments’ direction on this and debunk ‘alleged issues’”

    I just LOVE debunking alleged issues. The biggest canard to debunk is the progressive myth of the failure of laissez faire.

    Thanks for the effort.

  4. Dionysis

    “I just LOVE debunking alleged issues.” This isn’t about you, much as you wish it to be, and you haven’t debunked anything. And do tell about how the concept of laissez faire enabled you to become such a titan of entrepreneurial success, with vast property holdings and….oh, wait. Nevermind.

  5. Agreed. I hope supporters of STRs continue to contact my fellow Council members. My impression is that some of them are very open to legalization (with varying views on best practices.)

    Unfortunately, Vice Mayor Hunt advocates a $500 per day fine, and creation of a new AirBnB enforcement position.

    My position is that we should permit property owners to use their property as they wish, and that enforcement of a ban is beyond crazy.

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