Letter writer: City of Asheville isn’t ‘Leveling the Playing Field’ for short-term rentals

Graphic by Lori Deaton

In response to the June 17 Xpress article “Leveling the Playing Field,” if you had been part of the Short Term Rental Advocacy Asheville group, you would know the rhetoric in the newspapers is a campaign. Since December 2013, local short-term rental advocates and hosts have been working with the city concerning the “sharing economy” and ensuring that all city residents benefit from the economic wealth brought by tourism and travel.

STRAA shared “best practices.” It encouraged people to check local laws, screen guests, set ground rules, rent for the “right” price, promote property properly, have a 24/7 owner/contact in the event of problems, have property insurance and pay their taxes. We hired a land-use attorney to work with city staff, including Judy Daniels (retired), Allen Gines, Shannon Tuch, Cathy Ball and the Asheville City Council.

Last summer, the city hired and paid a consultant to write a report about the impact of short-term rentals in North Carolina. After multiple drafts, the final report was vague and inconclusive. Now there is no mention of this report. We attended Planning and Economic Development and City Council Planning and Zoning Commission [meetings] for two years. In January 2015 the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a meeting at Diana Wortham. Ms. Minges, hotel and restaurant industry representative, talked for 30 minutes, followed by a panel discussion of locals speaking five minutes each (the bed-and-breakfast group, Realtors, the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, local and quasi-government representatives). The public was given three minutes.

The second public forum in March was sponsored by City Council. Many spoke in support of loosening the current restrictions in the city. STRs are allowed in the county and Central Business District. Couldn’t similar smart and transparent regulatory policies that benefit the entire travel ecosystem be developed around the goal of ensuring an adequate supply of housing? In each meeting, there seemed some movement toward consideration of establishing basic components to regulate short-term rentals while protecting the common good.

The information is not consistent coming from the city. Our initial impression was there was room for negotiation. Now there is no acknowledgement that there has been a two-year conversation and interaction with Council, that the city hired a consultant, that staff worked with a land-use attorney representing short-term rental advocates.

This is the situation Asheville finds itself in: The city, state and county are raising all the taxes to have the tourists share tax burdens, most of which is going to go outside the Asheville city limits. Enforcement continues to be neighbors reporting neighbors. The city has created a climate of fear and mistrust among neighbors. The fines of $100 per day have been levied, and people have been put out of business, losing a vital level of income in some cases that allowed them to stay in their houses, improve the housing stock and make ends meet in Asheville. The fines are going to increase to $500 if P&Z’s recommendation is heeded by Council. This is overzealous and out of control.

I am wondering what is really going on.  The city does not have a clear and transparent agenda. Fear is not a professional or politically adept way of organizing a “sustainable” city for tourists or locals.

— Asheville resident

Editor’s note: Although Mountain Xpress ordinarily does not withhold the names of letter writers, in this case we made an exception because we determined that the writer’s concerns about possible loss of income were valid.

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7 thoughts on “Letter writer: City of Asheville isn’t ‘Leveling the Playing Field’ for short-term rentals

  1. Grant Milin

    Wow. This anonymity thing has got to end.

    STRAA has no spokesperson? City hall is bending backwards when it comes to Taking People Seriously Criteria. So is MX with this Anonymous STRAA Avatar letter.

    I’ve done hundreds of local commentaries and LTTEs. Many of the things I’ve said may have caused me economic harm I’d have to imagine. One doesn’t always know when an outspoken citizen gets hit with carrying levels of retaliation. But I brought up things no one else was apparently talking about in the open because in small and large ways using the Op/Ed section actually made a difference in at least one key matter I was involved in. I think many of my writings have helped encourage others to speak out in the face of convention.

    In this piece “neighbors” and “locals” replace property owners and mortgage holders living in houses. These houses could include LTR units. Some of us have lived in ‘in-law’ ADUs or rented a room.

    There is no renter voice in these city matters.

    There are few if any renters in city hall executive positions, on council, or on the boards and commissions. Why didn’t city hall try to bring in renters on all these ‘affordable housing’ and housing stock matters?

    Thanks for breaking the news about STRAA at least, Anonymous STRAA Avatar. Obviously these ambitious STR proponents have been organized, but now we know there’s yet another acronym behind it all.

    The UNC PhD published her conclusions online: http://curs.unc.edu/2015/03/26/a-roadmap-to-regulating-airbnb-and-short-term-rentals/

    NYC is a different market, however the findings in this NY AG report are more than likely transferable to STR hot zones like ours: http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-releases-report-documenting-widespread-illegality-across-airbnbs-nyc

    This STRAA policy finding means something according to this Anonymous STRAA Avatar. But I think the scale of justice used for overarching STRAAtegy may be a little ‘funny’.

    “[…] Couldn’t similar smart and transparent regulatory policies that benefit the entire travel ecosystem be developed around the goal of ensuring an adequate supply of housing? In each meeting, there seemed some movement toward consideration of establishing basic components to regulate short-term rentals while protecting the common good… […]”

    • Grant Milin

      Agreed the Anonymous STRAA Avatar’s use of the term fear is weird too.

  2. bsummers

    …we determined that the writer’s concerns about possible loss of income were valid.

    Meaning, they’re breaking the law and don’t want the City to fine them? If so, I’m not sure I can get behind allowing anonymity in this case. Besides, it implies that the City is somehow doing something nefarious simply by enforcing the law, as our resident City Council-hater seized on. I’ll criticize the City when they deserve it, but I’m not sure I buy the way this story is framed.

    I agree with the concern that loosening restrictions on STRs will exacerbate the shortage of affordable housing in the city. If you can make a wad of cash renting residential property out to tourists, why settle for the chump-change you can get merely renting it out long term to people who live here?

    Just checked Airbnb. There are 382 full homes for rent at an average of $162 a day, over 1000 including single rooms etc. How would the affordable housing crisis in Asheville be affected if all of them were only available for long term rental?

    • Jim

      LOL, no such thing. When a former neighbor is getting 30K above asking price, no reason to keep a rental. 422K for a house built in the 1950’s mind you.

      • bsummers

        When a former neighbor is getting 30K above asking price, no reason to keep a rental.

        Unless it generates a steady revenue stream as a STR, and later if you want to sell, it will still be worth a lot. No reason to sell the golden goose if it keeps laying eggs.

        People who live here are looking for housing, and it’s scarce. I think it’s within the City’s responsibilities to consider whether allowing hundreds of residential houses to be used as off-the-grid motel rooms is really in everyone’s interests.

        Of course, if I owned one of these properties and had come to depend on the income, I might feel differently.

  3. EmilyR

    Why does no one see that the local government is trying to saddle homeowners with the housing shortage? It is ludicrous to expect homeowners to house all of the people that need rental housing in this area. This is especially true when it comes to people who want to rent only part of their homes- such as a spare bedroom or auxiliary apartment. There is a huge difference between providing a clean, nicely furnished room to some one for a night or two and having a permanent (long term) tenant who brings their own stuff and is basically then a part of your household- no thanks! Homeowners should have the right to choose how they use their own property and STRs are being used as a scapegoat for the larger crisis of long term rental shortage. I hear so many excuses from our local gov’t about why Asheville is short on housing and it’s all their own doing. They blame the actual topography of the area- sorry, but I have traveled the world and seen so many innovative solutions to living in less than flat landscapes it’s ridiculous- this is such a lame excuse! Now they use STRs, which comprise a very small percentage of the housing stock and criminalize homeowners who are trying to make ends meet in an evermore costly environment, and label the tourists that use STRs as raucous partiers out to destroy our neighborhoods. These are the SAME people that Asheville spends so much money on luring to our area! So much insanity going here, it really breaks my heart to see the citizens suffer at the hands of a greedy industry and out of touch government. Also- STRAA- I am more than happy to be your representative and will gladly share my name.

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