Short Term Rental remarks from Jan 6, 2020 Council meeting

Jan 7, 2020 | City Council

At the City Council meeting last night (Jan 6, 2020), I made rather lengthy remarks on the topic of short-term rentals. Typically, I do not write out or plan my remarks ahead of Council meetings, because I see our deliberations as active discussions — we are exchanging/reacting to ideas and responding to colleagues, staff, and members of the public.

Because lengthy remarks can sometimes be taken out of context (and in the interest of making sure my ideas are understood) I’ve transcribed the whole of my remarks below.

One addition/clarification I would make to my remarks: when I referenced an “apartment setting” near Briarwood, I was describing a commercial hotel, zoned and designated for that use. It was not an AirBnB, but it was significantly cheaper than the residential options available to me through AirBnB.

Some of the comments that we’ve heard from people who support leaving well enough alone, I’m really struggling to see the community benefit that you’re asking us to recognize. I do not see AirBnB’s as a blight on any community, I’ve not heard anyone describe them that way. I do know that they are taking away housing that we would rather see — that we have the choice to decide that we would rather see — long-term residents occupying.

I have the anecdotal experience of having had work done on my house recently and needing to be away from it for a night. It was during the week, there were not any special events going on in town, no particular reason for me to experience difficulty in finding an AirBnB. I thought, “This will be an interesting experience, I’ll find an AirBnB in my own neighborhood.”

I could not find an AirBnB on a random Thursday night in my sort of near downtown neighborhood for less than $250 a night. My family ended up staying out near Briarwood, in an apartment setting, where I had access to a kitchen. It wasn’t as convenient because I wasn’t close to the bus stops that my kids use and my own workplace that I walk to.

As I see it, the way AirBnB’s are functioning in our town now is they are creating an opportunity for tourists to stay in residential neighborhoods near downtown. It strikes me that as a community we can make a choice to regulate at this point and try to protect our near downtown neighborhoods for residents who want access on a day-to-day basis to walking to stores and walking to their workplace and walking to the bus stop.

I asked staff in one of my questions to the agenda — because I was wondering about this argument that we are lacking hotel rooms, we’re lacking housing for tourists — how many hotel rooms have been developed in the last ten years? In the last ten years, Ann Arbor has approved for development over a thousand hotel rooms, and an additional 577 are currently under review.

I appreciate AirBnB. When I travel, I appreciate AirBnb, that there would be uses for it in this community. But I think we are at a crossroads now — and there are a lot of communities now that are at a crossroads — in trying to decide: are we a tourism town that is subject to the whim of seasonality and people coming in and out or are we primarily a community where people are going to live and work in neighborhoods?

So, that’s where I stand. I want to echo the words of — I forget who said it, whether it was CM Griswold or CM Grand… I am confident there is enough process yet ahead of us that there are many discussions yet to be had. There is a lot of room for Option 3 as a starting point and a lot of community discussion and back and forth about how we want to go about this. I am grateful for everyone’s engagement in this issue and participation and discussion about this issue because I think it’s timely. Thank you.

After I made these remarks (during a break in our meeting), a traditional bed and breakfast owner approached me to explain: the fees attached to bookings on AirBnB are so significant that they would add $100 to the cost of a room at her business. As a consumer, what I found in Ann Arbor AirBnB listings was that some units had reasonable rates per night, but with very high cleaning fees (i.e. per night rates are not reflective of the whole cost). Some have argued that the value of AirBnB is that it provides “affordable” options for people needing short-term stays for significant non-tourism purposes (medical treatment, family support, etc.). We have a lot of conversations about affordability in this town and so when anyone attaches that word to an argument we need to take a closer look.

I appreciate everyone’s interest in this issue and I look forward to future debate and discussion around paths moving forward.