Airbnb For Me But Not For Thee

By Brent Woodcox

Recently, I stumbled upon a picture that was shared on social media that showed city employees gathering with business and tech leaders in Austin for the SXSW festival. From all accounts, the folks who traveled there to represent our city did a fantastic job representing us and showing all the attendees of the festival the many incredible things our city has to offer.

I did notice one strange thing though. It seemed like folks from the city were staying in an Airbnb. That couldn't be though, I thought. Raleigh city councilors are working overtime to block Raleigh residents from renting out their own homes on a short term basis. How could it be city policy to send their own employees to other cities to stay in Airbnbs when city councilors have made it clear what a giant disruption they would be to neighborhoods in our city.

Of course, this isn't the first time that we have experienced this type of what's good for the goose is NOT good for the gander hypocrisy in the city of Raleigh.

Councilor Russ Stephenson, the unelected Mayor of Raleigh, has made clear that he stays in Airbnbs in other cities "all the time" even as he has done his level best to make sure they will never be made legal in our city.

Now comes this story from the News & Observer...

While Raleigh residents technically aren’t allowed to rent out their homes as short-term rentals, some city staff members have been using Airbnb for lodging when they travel for work.

Four Raleigh employees stayed at an Airbnb in Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest festival this month. It was at least the third time city staffers have used the online rental service in the past year.

Short-term rentals like Airbnb are banned within Raleigh, but city leaders haven’t enforced the rules for years while they try to create regulations. Some people have been frustrated by the lack of progress on the issue.

Critics of short-term rentals say the service can increase traffic and noise in neighborhoods, and take away affordable long-term living spaces. Supporters say it can boost tourism and help property owners earn extra income. ...

The city’s policy doesn’t dictate that employees have to stay in a hotel, but that the lodging has be reasonably priced.

It was unclear Thursday how much it cost staffers to stay at an Airbnb for this month’s SXSW, an annual film, technology and music festival. The city spent $2,245 for staff members to spend eight nights at an Airbnb in Austin for last year’s festival. It spent $298 for staff to stay three nights last June at an Airbnb in Memphis, Tenn., for an Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals seminar. ...

A task force appointed by the Raleigh City Council studied short-term rentals for months before submitting a series of recommendations last year. The council delayed voting on the proposed rules and sent them to the Economic Development and Innovation Committee. The issue isn’t officially in any council committee now.

But that’s not to say Raleigh property owners don’t rent out their homes anyway. North Carolina residents who rented out their homes on Airbnb made $97 million in 2017, with $3.8 million coming from Raleigh rentals, according to the company.
— Anna Johnson - N&O

For all the talk from city councilors like Russ Stephenson, Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder and David Cox about how they are "protecting our neighborhoods" from the scourge of short term rentals, their policy has been an abysmal failure and an embarrassment to Raleigh. This latest display of hypocrisy just lays bare that fact.

If Raleigh wants to be a "21st century city of innovation" as it claims, it's time to abandon the Russ Stephenson rule for short term rentals and embrace the same technology that city employees wisely have when visiting other cities. If we want to compete with Austin for festivals and other tourism attracting events, then we're going to need to put our city on a level playing field with them when it comes to Airbnb. And if Austin's rules on short term rentals are good enough for the city to feel comfortable sending its employees to stay in Airbnbs when visiting, then the city council should immediately adopt the Austin model as Raleigh's new rules.

At any rate, there shouldn't be one policy for Raleigh employees and one for Raleigh residents. That's wrong. City councilors know it. And they're allowing it anyway. 

Brent Woodcox