Opinion: Home sharing is helping, not hurting Detroit

Kelley Gossett

Detroit is a sought out travel destination, a place for conferences and presidential primary debates, to see a favorite band or visit a museum. The Motor City is a year-round hub for attractive events, music, food and culture. 

The economic benefits of the tourism boom in Detroit are enjoyed by local retailers, restaurants and hotel operators. It’s also put needed money in the pockets of Detroiters who share their homes as short-term rentals. In fact, as of July 2019, Detroit Airbnb hosts earned nearly $9 million in supplemental income in the previous year. This summer alone, Detroit-area hosts earned nearly $4.5 million, while welcoming around 35,000 guests. 

Karen Brown, seen in the kitchen of the Detroit house she is renovating as an Airbnb, did most of the renovation work herself. She expects it to rent for $100-$125 per night.

The importance of that supplemental income cannot be understated. Hosting on Airbnb has helped Detroit hosts keep their homes, pay their mortgages and invest in their local businesses.

Home sharing also brings economic impact to neighborhoods where visitors would not be able to stay if not for an Airbnb listing. These are neighborhoods outside of downtown that need further development and economic investment. According to an Airbnb survey of the guest community in Detroit, Airbnb guests say 50% of their spending occurs in the neighborhood where they stay.

But an ordinance under consideration by the City Council seeks to take the monetary benefits of tourism away from Detroiters. The ordinance would limit short-term rentals to 90-days out of the year in certain instances, impose a confounding and unenforceable 1,000-foot-between-listings rule and penalize listings that are not owner-occupied. All rules that would greatly reduce the ability of Detroiters to home share. 

Janee Ayers is the author of a proposed city ordinance that would over-regulate Airbnb in Detroit, Gossett writes.

We’ve heard the housing concerns raised by Councilwoman Janee Ayers, the author of the ordinance. The reality is, entire home Airbnb listings, in which the owner does not live in the property, make up around 600 listings — a mere .04% of renter-occupied units in Detroit. What’s more, there are currently 81,000 off-market vacant units in Detroit, according to an April study by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. 

Concerns have also been raised about parties at Airbnb listings, a concern we share for any community. To be clear, unauthorized parties reflect a breach of trust that has no place on Airbnb. But we’ve found home sharing incidents in Detroit are the exception and not the rule, with 85% of booked listings in Detroit not allowing parties. If this is a principal concern for the City, there are reasonable safety and noise regulations to consider that do not involve limiting home sharing. 

Regulation of the short-term rental industry is not something we oppose, but cutting it down at the knees, while it’s helping Detroiters, is fundamentally perplexing and wrong. Many alternative solutions embrace this innovation and cultivate economic vitality for Detroit while addressing Councilwoman Ayers’ concerns. We have formed win-win regulatory partnerships with other large cities including Chicago, San Francisco and London — and wish to do the same in Detroit. 

We hope the City Council will reconsider eliminating everyday Detroiters from the benefits of tourism. 

Kelley Gossett is a regional policy director for Airbnb.