This coming Tuesday, June 9th, the Berkeley City Council plans to vote on a set of recommendations to regulate short term rentals, such as those facilitated through websites like Airbnb and VRBO. Following other municipalities, Berkeley’s current proposal seeks to limit short-term rentals in owner or renter occupied units as well as eliminate the ability to rent out accessory dwellings on owner occupied property, including backyard cottages and mother-in-law suites.
I urge the Berkeley City Council and Berkeley residents to consider the stories of short-term rental hosts as we begin the process of defining and regulating this new housing landscape. In my neighborhood, West Berkeley, many low to middle income residents, like my multigenerational family (public school educator, non-profit worker, and musician), are able to remain in their homes and help provide for their families by renting out unused spaces on their property. Home sharers come from all walks of life: professionals between jobs, homeowners struggling with chronic disease, retirees unable to live off of social security alone, and artists and musicians with unstable incomes. Berkeley is expensive for all of us- homeowners and renters alike.
Objection to short-term rentals often comes from tenant advocates, who see home sharing as a contributor to increasing rental prices and a disincentive to rent long-term. In most cases, however, the rooms or units offered for short term rental have never been occupied by long term tenants, were never intended to serve as rental units, and would never be offered for long term rent.
These are spaces Berkeley residents use for visiting family members, healthcare support, and artistic work. The hosts I know have no plans, desire, or ability to take on permanent tenants. However, the ability to rent those units to travelers provides an important, often vital income source.
Home sharing doesn’t just benefit Berkeley hosts and Berkeley guests, it benefits all of our neighborhoods by bringing in dollars to local small business.
Like home sharing hosts, home sharing guests are varied: visiting scholars, students, travelling professionals in town for conferences and meetings, or friends and family of our Berkeley neighbors. Much to our surprise, many of our guests are foreign tourists. They come from all over the world to visit San Francisco, but thanks to home sharing, they stay in Berkeley. Because they stay with us, our guests eat in our neighborhood restaurants like Tomate Café and Vik’s Chaat. They buy groceries at Berkeley Bowl on 9th and gifts on 4th St. Home sharing already serves as an indirect revenue source for our community. If reasonably taxed, these kind of short-term rentals could serve as an additional direct income stream for City government.
Home sharing gets a bad rap. The media’s portrayal is one of greedy landlords and techie invasion. But home sharing is an old idea, one long practiced and institutionalized in other countries around the world. As a member of the Berkeley Chapter of the East Bay Home Sharers organization, I encourage the lawmakers of our City to listen closely Tuesday night to stories from all perspectives as we together move forward with the regulatory process.
Read the letter the Berkeley chapter of the East Bay Home Sharers sent to City Council regarding the proposed short-term rental policy.
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