Guest Commentary

Guest commentarty: The Airbnb business model deserves fair consideration

Diane Binckley, of the Kansas City Planning and Development Department, distributed proposed ordinance information at a June 6 meeting of the City Plan Commission.
Diane Binckley, of the Kansas City Planning and Development Department, distributed proposed ordinance information at a June 6 meeting of the City Plan Commission. The Kansas City Star

Last March, Kansas City emerged at the center of the sports world as fans and alumni of Oregon, Purdue, Michigan and hometown favorite Kansas descended here for the Sweet 16.

These types of major sporting events give cities like Kansas City opportunities to welcome economic development and celebrate their distinctive qualities on a global stage. Unfortunately, Kansas City has not always maintained the capacity to host these events because of limited hotel inventory.

In recent years, a new trend has allowed the city to expand lodging capacity and take full economic advantage of opportunities like the NCAA tournament by using existing resources: people’s homes. That’s through online home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb.

In Kansas City, more than 500 residents share their homes on Airbnb. In 2016, they welcomed more than 38,000 visitors to the city, earning a combined $4.1 million. For the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight weekend alone, Airbnb hosts earned $236,000.

The overwhelming majority of Kansas City Airbnb hosts are regular, middle-class people who share the home in which they live full time. Nearly half of our hosts here, commonly empty-nesters, simply share an extra, unused room in their residence. They earn modest but valuable income from home sharing — $5,000 annually for the typical Kansas City host. They use that money to pay the bills, take care of the mortgage and tuition and contribute to savings and retirement funds.

Our hosts want to pay their fair share in occupancy taxes, and we want to help. Airbnb has secured tax deals that allow us to collect and remit occupancy tax on behalf of our hosts in over 250 jurisdictions globally, including most recently with the state of Kansas. We want to continue the conversations with Kansas City’s leaders so that we can help deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars in new annual tax revenue.

What we find both here in Missouri and throughout the nation is that old laws do not always apply well to new ideas. We at Airbnb, as well as our Kansas City host community, fully support regulations for the burgeoning home-sharing industry. However, those rules should be clear, fair and commonsense.

This is why Airbnb and the Kansas City residents who use our platform are concerned about the home-sharing ordinance recently proposed. The draft ordinance as currently written would impose unreasonably strict limits on how homeowners can share their own homes on platforms like Airbnb and prohibit home-sharing in certain districts.

It would also require onerous and unrealistic requirements, such as obtaining signed affidavits from neighbors. Additionally, the ordinance currently includes unnecessarily expensive registration fees.

Thankfully, the city has allowed our hosts a seat at the table and expressed a willingness to listen to their concerns. We hope that the process will continue along those lines and that the more cumbersome aspects of this draft ordinance will be removed during the legislative process.

Laura Spanjian is the Midwest policy director for Airbnb.