D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) has sponsored legislation on home-sharing and vacation rentals that ignores a sensible approach to policymaking.
McDuffie’s bill, aimed at Airbnb, would require vacation-rental owners to be on the property the entire time of a group’s stay, effectively banning whole-home rentals and eliminating the economic benefits they’ve brought to our city for generations.
McDuffie justifies this drastic legislation as a means of increasing affordable housing and preserving neighborhood character. However, if he considered the facts on housing in the District and listened to stakeholders, including me, he would realize that this bill achieves neither of these objectives.
I have lived in the District for more than 35 years. My husband and I purchased our first home here in 1983, raised our three children here and continue to enjoy the charm of our Capitol Hill neighborhood. We also own a house we rent out short-term. As D.C. residents and business owners, we understand firsthand the positive impact such rentals have on our community.
Blaming rentals for the District’s affordable housing problems is a thinly veiled attempt by the hotel lobby to make vacation rentals the scapegoat for a situation that has been developing for decades. The affordable housing crisis is more likely the result of stagnant wages for low-income earners and poor management of affordable housing initiatives such as the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund.
According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, low-income households saw rent increases of about $250 per month over the past decade, but their incomes remained flat. Meanwhile, the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund, which was set up to ensure the city maintains affordable housing options, has been forfeiting millions of dollars to the federal government because it couldn’t meet deadlines and maintain accurate records.
Vacation rentals typically make up less than 1 percent of housing stock and have virtually no impact on housing affordability.
McDuffie’s supporters have also left the clear economic benefits of vacation rentals out of the conversation. Vacation rentals attract visitors to neighborhoods previously left out of the tourist economy. A Destination DC study found that from 2005 to 2015 the number of visitors to our city increased to 21 million from 15 million. Many vacationers, particularly those with families, prefer rental homes to hotels. Rental homes such as mine expand options and help attract more tourist spending. Whole-home rentals provide accommodations that are fundamentally different from hotels.
Short-term rental owners keep our properties well-maintained. I have a business license and pay taxes — at the same rate as hotels. And I create jobs. I hire local cleaning services, gardeners, maintenance people and others.
The proposed vacation-rental legislation punishes responsible property owners for using their resources to generate income. Depriving homeowners of the ability to use their assets to generate revenue is inherently wrong. Many short-term rental homeowners use their houses to help pay mortgages, fund education and save for retirement.
Our vacation rental has been our lifeline. Five years ago, my husband suffered a massive stroke resulting in a traumatic brain injury. I became the full-time caregiver of the man who was our family’s breadwinner. I didn’t know how we were going to get by, if we would be able to stay in our home or if we could even stay in the District. Being able to leverage our property was a lifesaver.
We should have policies that help all parties comply with fair and reasonable regulations, rather than trying to completely ban some homeowners’ primary source of income.
McDuffie’s short-term rental bill misses the point and does more harm than good. It’s not a one-or-the-other issue when it comes to vacation rentals and strong communities. Policies that consider the voices of all stakeholders will ensure vacation rentals continue to serve our communities.