Andy Griggs, Emma Rosenthal of DragonflyHill Urban Farm
We both attended and spoke at the recent public hearing before the City Planning Commission staff, on the proposed Home Sharing Ordinance and were impressed by a pattern we saw emerging: Many like us, were retired, grappling with devastating health conditions, limitations and disabilities. The staff heard from hosts with cancer, Parkinson’s, and other conditions, all sharing how hosting has allowed us to keep our homes and create jobs for ourselves and others in our communities. Many of us, also, are either retired or active union members. Many of us also work in our homes in other capacities. These are not just “anecdotal”. We are a significant demographic.
STR host after host explained how the sharing economy kept us from losing our homes. Our home is both our biggest asset and our greatest expense. In an economy of rising housing costs and diminished job opportunities, home sharing provides solutions to both these concerns.
At the beginning of the hearing, Community Planning and Historic Resources Division Manager, Ken Bernstein, who probably receives a healthy 6 figure salary, admonished those of us offering STRs as a means of keeping our homes, that we should, if we had housing available more than 90 days a year, offer it to Angelinos.
The landlord tenant relationship is by its definition and by law an adversarial relationship. Is it really fair or safe to demand that STR hosts, at least the ones who attended the hearing, who are disproportionately older, retired, disabled and sick, live in an intimate adversarial environment?
It can be very difficult to remove someone from our homes who lives there more than 30 days. The legal costs and the physical danger of long term renting are much greater than the risks of home sharing. We can provide more housing options and housing security to ourselves and our community and employees with the income from home sharing. We put considerable labor, time and finances into establishing our home share. As Airbnb superhosts we provide a responsible and safe option for travelers and community members. Since we began hosting last August we have paid over $5000 in TOT taxes, voluntarily and we welcome a more formalized process. We work and communicate closely with neighbors so that our guests are not an imposition on the community, We live in the house with our guests. We provide off street parking for our guests. We support community businesses and subcontractors. We provide affordable short term lodging to family and friends of neighbors who may not have room for guests in their own homes.
We also provide other services out of our home, like renting out the space to the film industry as a film location, offering tax services and allowing groups to meet in our auxiliary building. All of this may be prohibited under this ordinance. By working in our home, while home sharing, we can monitor activities in the home and tend to the needs of our guests and our neighbors. We’re also eyes on the street, home during the day when others are at work, thus assuring a safer community.
We agree that the landlord hotels need to be eradicated– when a multi-unit landlord turns apartments into STRs at the expense of the larger housing stock and forces tenants out of their housing through harassment or abuse of Ellis evictions. But to delegate what we can do in our own homes in what is a growing sharing economy, when our homes are often our only resource and our greatest expense, makes no sense unless the goal is to provide a more advantageous economy for developers and multinational hotels. Airbnb seems to be more the lightning rod for these industries, who go unchallenged in their impact on housing and the economy. That so many people can claim that airbnb is ruining the housing economy, while they cannot name a single developer, is not insignificant. That we’re all pretending or ignoring the fact that many of the hotels were built upon the destruction of entire neighborhoods, predominantly of very poor people, is also not insignificant. That the city has repeatedly allowed developers to destroy RSO housing and replace it with monstrous unaffordable luxury housing and that this is not part of the discussion on what is truly driving up rents, is pretty outrageous.
While most hosts only rent out a few nights a month,others have established consistent and well run year round businesses out of our homes. some of us have created not only jobs for ourselves, but for members of the community– our employees, support for local businesses, gardeners. We have two full time employees. We pay significantly more than the proposed $15 minimum wage, health benefits, sick leave, vacation pay. If employees need to leave in the middle of the day or have to arrive late or leave early to take care of family or personal matters, we can accommodate that. We prioritize hiring from our immediate community, share our resources and provide immediate services, as well as support neighbors who have other cottage industries.
We have a large house so we’re able to offer more than one listing in our home. The aspects of the ordinance that would hurt us the most
- limit us to a particular number of days per year (currently proposed at 90, but any limitation would be an imposition),
- Limit the number of listings
- Limit the number of groups of guests in our primary residence.
- Prohibit other non-residential uses
Aside from the very wealthy properties listed as STR hosts, most hosts make less than $100 a day per listing. That would mean the ordinance would limit this cottage industry to $9000 a year, and yet would impose taxes on it that are based on the taxes paid by enormous billion dollar hotel corporations that also receive other compensations, loans and disbursements from the city. And yet the hotel industry claims they are the ones at a disadvantage here. What other small business is taxed at 14%? What other small business is limited to earning less than $9000 a year or conducting business on a part time basis? What other small business is denied the right to develop other sources of income? At this rate we will not be able to provide stable employment for ourselves or our employees. This is not a sustainable business model.
Passage of this ordinance would probably push us out of our house and force us to sell it, either leaving L.A. totally or adding ourselves to the numbers of people searching for affordable rental housing in a city that has had no real affordable housing policy since the 80s.
While the stated purpose of the ordinance is to make communities safer and housing more affordable, to protect rent controlled apartments, and address issues of decreased rental stock, We fear that certain provisions of the proposed ordinance would hurt many of the less well off members of the home sharing community, and/or push many of us out of our homes.
Aside from this ordinance, what other comprehensive housing program is being implemented in this city? What other efforts are being made to protect affordable housing and rental stock, particularly for example, the large number of new developments going up all over the city that are getting permits to destroy much of the older, rent controlled housing stock. Just on the block behind our house two multifamily houses are being torn down to make way for an apartment building full of pricey large apartments. Another multifamily house is being torn down two blocks down from our house, on our street and another large building is going up that won’t have rent stabilization. One of the apartments in one of the houses had been listed on airbnb offering a room in the apartment. The airbnb listing did nothing to harm affordable housing and rental stock in the neighborhood. The new building destroyed 5 homes to be replaced by new unregulated rentals.
To achieve the stated goal of protecting and perhaps expanding affordable housing in the city, the proposed ordinance should stipulate that TOT revenues collected from Home Sharing be allocated to the Housing Trust Fund, to be used for affordable housing.
There is much that the city planners could do to protect the older housing stock, including disallowing their destruction, supporting mom and pop owners who live on the property, provide incentives, subsidies, make it easier to remove a problem boarder or tenant, especially when the owners live on the premises. But it seems the only concern by the city for these older buildings, a significant architectural heritage, is if that they are being used as short term rentals.
The city needs to find ways to make renting older properties, affordable and sustainable and of providing new housing stock that reflects the history and integrity of existing, especially poor communities. Demanding that homeowners with room to spare, offer our homes to strangers on a permanent basis is unfair, unreasonable and unrealistic. This ordinance will create more housing problems, not decrease them. We encourage the Planning Department staff to rework this ordinance so that it is more streamlined and does not hurt the more financially vulnerable members of the community who have made use of this economic opportunity.