by John “Hans” Gilderbloom and Rick Redding
A group of home-sharing opponents recently engineered an unwarranted attack on the ability of many Louisville homeowners to rent portions of their homes to out-of-town guests. These attacks threaten income streams of more than a thousand middle-class homeowners who have joined millions around the globe in offering their unique spaces to visitors. The Metropolitan Housing Coalition and others have presented information not supported by research, and sought to block and/or put up roadblocks to home sharing homeowners.
In fact, home sharing can lead to better and more affordable housing options. Home sharing is as tied to Kentucky as bourbon, fried chicken, boxing and the Derby. Kentucky native Abraham Lincoln once traveled through Louisville and shared the Farmington home of Joshua Speed. Nobody was trying to enact legislation to stop him from sharing his home with his best friend. But today governments are taking their cue from hotel corporations and wrong-minded alarmists, creating a mindset of fear that visitors staying in Louisville neighborhoods will create all sorts of mythical negative consequences. Does Louisville really want to set a standard that discourages a global phenomenon that produces happy buyers and sellers?
The fears of its opponents are unfounded, as homeowners in all parts of Louisville have for many years successfully provided short-term rental space to guests, not just at Derby time, but throughout the year. It’s a long-term Kentucky tradition that has been part of Derby lore.
These guests have enjoyed staying in Louisville neighborhoods, eating at local restaurants and contributing to the local economy. Many have special needs, including dog owners or large families, that aren’t accommodated at hotels. Until now, these private transactions for lodging have taken place, peacefully, without intrusion by local authorities.
Now along come politicians and others with a solution looking for a problem.
A new Metro Council regulation will require licensing and inspections for homeowners. Critics at a recent hearing convinced the Planning Commission to make the requirements for renting space more difficult. Just like the original smoking ordinance that tried to exempt Churchill Downs, the proposed regulations will also be overturned by the courts.
For example, you can’t allow one neighbor to have an Airbnb and prohibit the other neighbor because one historic house has a driveway and the other doesn’t. Many house sharing homes are in historic areas of Clifton, Highlands and Old Louisville where driveways/garages were not part of the design. Residents park in the street. Another part of the proposal would require the owner to live within 25 miles of the house sharing location. This is simply arbitrary and would never stand in a court case.
What those pushing for regulation fail to realize is that those participating in home sharing understand the importance of high standards. It’s a self-regulating community. Those who host on Airbnb take great care in keeping their properties up to date, because they know that a bad review on the site will discourage future visits.
Preservationists, government, and affordable housing activists should support home sharing. These owners use the money to update and repair homes and fix code violations. In some cases, the income helps residents keep their homes. A UofL survey found that nearly half of homeowners would make home improvements if they earned an extra $8,000 (about the average made for Airbnb host). According to a national survey, Airbnb providers have lived in their homes an average of 19 years. Half make less than the national median income, and half depend on the income to stay in their homes. That helps explain why Foreclosure rates are lower and housing prices increase more with the presence of home sharing.
The highest concentration of home-sharing locations are in historic preservation areas, and owners use revenues to improve historic houses. 75 percent of home sharing occurs outside hotel districts. From a safety standpoint, some visitors prefer these neighborhoods to cheaper hotels that may be in high-crime areas. Guests enjoy an authentic experience and learn about life as a resident.
Owners of Airbnb rental properties recycle their revenue into the local economy, and pay taxes on the income.
We need Airbnb in Louisville. The genie is out of the bottle — thousands of American cities and 191 countries embrace the new economic tool is as win-win. Airbnb is a great economic spark plug for our historic neighborhoods. Critics are demonizing middle class homeowners, saying they’re taking away housing for the poor. The reality is that the research—which opponents stated they can’t find—tell us a much different story.
The home sharing community benefits local economies across the world by supporting residents and local businesses, and encouraging cultural exchange. It would be shameful for Louisville to stand out as one community among thousands that doesn’t welcome the home sharing economy.
Dr. John “Hans” Gilderbloom and Rick Redding are part of the community of home sharers. This piece originally appeared in the Courier-Journal.