Proposed Airbnb Ban Could Put World of Bluegrass Festival at Risk
Is This the Future We Want for Raleigh?
By Brent Woodcox
It was announced this morning that the city of Raleigh and the International Bluegrass Music Association had reached an agreement to keep IBMA's World of Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh for another three years through 2021.
This is great news for Raleigh as well as the small business owners, restaurants and shops that benefit from the influx of tourists and the money they spend while they are here attending the festival. One other group that stands to benefit from the continued presence of the festival in Raleigh: short term rental hosts.
The World of Bluegrass Festival has proved to bring just the type of tourists from around the world that want to experience Raleigh as the locals do. Many of these out of town visitors turn to Airbnb, VRBO and other short term rental platforms to secure a place to stay while they are in Raleigh.
It was also at the World of Bluegrass Festival in 2016 that the #DontBeStupidRaleigh campaign was launched by Gregg Stebben and others after Stebben was the fight short term rental host in the city of Raleigh for violating the city's ban on Airbnb.
That effort led to a petition that has been signed by more than 1,400 people, including former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. Former Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin has also cited the World of Bluegrass Festival as one of the premiere events showing off the city of Raleigh to visitors and cited short term rental hosts as key partners with city for welcoming people to town.
Keep in mind that Raleigh is still experiencing a shortage of hotel rooms. And though more rooms are currently being added to inventory and additional hotels will go up between now and 2021, the simple fact is that hotels alone are not enough to support an event of the size and scope of the World of Bluegrass Festival, which is only experiencing a surge in popularity year after year.
So who is standing in the way of making short term rentals legal in Raleigh? Well, the usual suspects in city government. Namely, Raleigh City Councilors Stef Mendell, Russ Stephenson, Kay Crowder and David Cox.
Recently, they are talking about passing an ordinance that would ban short term rentals but allow for "homestays" with a new law modeled after Asheville's rules. One problem though. Those rules have been a complete failure.
So the city of Asheville is suing its own citizens, violators are racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and the city is utterly powerless to collect them.
Why would Raleigh want to follow Asheville into this quagmire?
Well, one councilor who does is Russ Stephenson. He recently told a constituent that he was a supporter of Airbnb but that he would still vote to ban short term rentals in the city.
Councilor Stephenson says, "I have always supported short term rentals in Raleigh..." But is that really true? Because he was also the councilor who helped to block a previous compromise offered by a citizen-led task force regarding short term rentals even while admitting that he "used them all the time in other cities."
So how can you be a supporter of short term rentals, have voted to block making them legal in the past and have a plan to permanently ban them in Raleigh? That doesn't make sense to me but maybe Councilor Stephenson can explain it to us.
Raleigh is on the verge of adopting a disastrous policy on short term rentals that will not only cost Raleigh short term rental hosts the income they make from renting their properties. It will cost restaurants and businesses that benefit from the tourism that visitors bring to the city when they stay in Airbnbs. And it will put events like the World of Bluegrass Festival and others that draw tourists to our city at risk.
Because what is the plan when, like Asheville, we ban short term rentals, impose fines and fail to stop them from operating anyway? Are we going to create a special police force to knock down the doors of Airbnbs and investigate? Are we going to yank tourists out of their beds and kick them out onto the street? Are we going to throw homeowners in jail who run afoul of Raleigh's new strict legal restrictions on how they use their property? How do Councilors Mendell, Stephenson, Crowder and Cox plan to succeed where Asheville has failed? If they have a plan, they should tell us about it.
We don't have to follow another city's lead into an unenforceable, impossible set of heavy handed rules that turn the government against families trying to make a little extra income to help make ends meet.
We can adopt a Raleigh plan that is best suited for the needs and aspirations of our city. A plan that serves both our neighborhoods and our local businesses well. A plan that represents our unofficial motto that says, "Welcome to Raleigh, y'all!"
We just need leaders with vision who are willing to do it.