IF there’s going to be a “Fair Playing Field”, Where’s my L.A. Times Column?

In response to the column in the L.A. Times which the Chief Executive of the California Hotel & Lodging Assn. claimed that the city wasn’t collecting millions of dollars in taxes from short term rentals,   here’s Emma’s comment, which she also submitted as a letter to the editor. The statement she respond to, was in itself a response to a previous article published by the L.A. Times reporting on the taxes Airbnb has already paid to the city. 

“The writer is president and chief executive of the California Hotel & Lodging Assn.” says it all, but just in case it doesn’t:

What is the writer suggesting? That Airbnb ISN’T  collecting taxes? That the city isn’t receiving taxes? That we can’t verify the taxes collected by checking the publicly available city budget?  This is the same hotel industry that initially complained that Airbnb hosts weren’t paying taxes (Many of us paid taxes directly to the city prior to Airbnb’s agreement to collect taxes from guests up front and pay those taxes directly to the city.)   Each host registered with the city (through the finance office, like all businesses who are licensed) submits information about income and taxes to the city monthly, which can be checked against the money paid by Airbnb. Furthermore the city knows exactly how much in taxes Airbnb. So don’t believe the hotel industry when they complain about Airbnb and home sharing, because the hotel industry isn’t concerned about anything other than their own profit. 

And when it comes to taxes and  a “fair playing field” (as if we could ever be on a fair playing field with multinational billion dollar corporations), It’s the hotel industry that doesn’t pay taxes, the hotel industry that gets huge subsidies whereby the hotels collect taxes from guests, but pay them to developers and not the city. Would that Airbnb hosts could divert taxes to pay our mortgages, rents, student debts, car loans, hospital bills. (If we’re really talking about a fair playing field).  http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-la-taxpayer-subsidy-downtown-hotel-20140701-story.html

The New York Times released the internal documents of the hotel industry’s plot to attack hosts and eliminate the Airbnb platform which has facilitated the growth of a this cottage industry. This plan calls for raising many social justice issues related to housing, none of which are address otherwise by the hotel industry (issues of safety, access, affordability, neighborhoods). While the hotel industry insists that mom and pop hosts are a “ploy” or a “hoax”, we are very very real. Each Airbnb host is an autonomous business. Not a franchise, but an independent,  using the Airbnb platform to run our businesses. It’s a unique business model whereby most of the money towards a reservation goes directly to the people providing the service. With the 14% hotel tax, and with Airbnb fees of 9-15% per booking, the city is actually making more money off of Airbnb than Airbnb does. 

 What other corporate model leaves such a huge amount of the income from that industry directly in the hands of the workers,  communities and cities in which they operate? What other business model has facilitated the growth of so many small businesses that the hotel industry needs to put out hit pieces like this, implying that the L.A. Times or the public can’t access public records that prove the claims of huge tax payments to the city?

Why shouldn’t we believe that the taxes from home sharing is significant? More to the point, in the face of an article like this, where the hotel industry basically demands we forgo the social services such taxes could fund, why should be believe the hotel industry cares about communities, safety or access or any other concerns they troll.

If you believe the hotel industry, I am a figment of your imagination.  But in reality, I’m a retired teacher, who by sharing my home and welcoming people to L.A. or providing interim housing to people who live in the city or are relocating to the city, I am able to keep my own home, on my fixed income pension.  We provide a much needed service, because between the $300 a night hotel and the 12 month lease, there are few other housing options in this city.  Some of us hosts have approached the city about using the Airbnb platform to allow us to provide temporary housing to unhoused Angelinos).  I also provide jobs– full time and part time, including benefits, and like many hosts, pay over the proposed 15$ minimum wage, which the hotel industry still does not pay its poorest workers. 

The hotel industry claims that they’re only concerned about the commercial bnbs, but the ordinance they support would limit hosts to renting out only to one group at a time and for a minimum of 180 nights a year. -Again, NOT a fair playing field, no other business model is remotely as restrictive, and the city has and allows many home based businesses that aren’t as residential as home sharing.  (At 180 days a year, at $100 a listing, that’s less than 20,000$ a year– which isn’t even a salary, won’t allow for full time employment or benefits, and is hardly a fair playing field against the mammoth hotel industry.) 

7 new luxury hotels are going up in L.A. and most of them won’t pay taxes for 50 years.  All of these hotels COULD have been affordable housing units, or still could provide some affordable housing. In the “fair playing field” spirit, just as hotels sell million dollar luxury condos in their highest floors, why not provide low income housing in their lower floors? Or is the hotel industry not REALLY concerned about neighborhoods, fair playing fields, housing or communities? Are our hardest working, least paid neighbors only suitable for cleaning up after the people to whom the hotel industry caters?  -Emma Rosenthal


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