On Thursday, the Baltimore City Council will vote again to pass strict new legislation on property rentals that would impose a “9.5 percent hotel tax on Airbnb-style stays. It would also ban people from renting properties other than their primary homes.”
Baltimore City Council, I implore you to vote against this legislation. I’m going to share my story of how being an AirBNB host changed my life and was good for Baltimore with the hope that you will realize the net-good impact short-term rentals have on our city.
I moved to Baltimore in the summer of 2009 as a fresh college grad. I began teaching for Baltimore City Public Schools and bought my first house in the up-and-coming Hollins Market neighborhood in the spring of 2011, taking advantage of the various grants offered through assistance from Live Baltimore.
Within a year, I learned about AirBNB and started renting out a spare room in my 3-bedroom house. Shortly thereafter, I started renting out a second room, which gave me enough income security to leave my job by 2013 and start a company called Allovue, aimed at addressing budgeting and financial management challenges for school districts. (Yes, we are now working with Baltimore City Schools.)
Largely thanks to my income from AirBNB, I was able to work without a salary for a couple of years while I worked on building the business. Even after I put myself on salary, I was able to work well below market rate and keep our operating expenses lower because of my supplemental rental income.
During the seven years that I was an AirBNB host, I hosted hundreds of guests from around the world. We had conversations at my kitchen table, where I was able to dispel some of the harmful myths and perceptions about Baltimore that people had picked up from skewed media reports or The Wire. In the morning, I sent them to my local neighborhood coffee-shop instead of a hotel-lobby Starbucks; on weekends, I directed them to local festivals and our Farmers’ Market; in the evenings, I shared my favorite locally-owned bars and restaurants.
Meanwhile, since Allovue’s founding in 2013 we have attracted nearly $10M in venture capital from around the country to be invested in Allovue and Baltimore, which has helped us to create dozens of jobs (and counting – we’re hiring). In just the past year, 25 percent of our staff bought new houses in Baltimore City – three of whom had moved to Baltimore from out of state to work at Allovue. Thanks to the rental stability of my first house, this year I was able to buy a second house closer to our office in Remington. I got rid of my car and take advantage of awesome bike lanes like the one on Maryland Ave. The property taxes on my new house are 10x that of my first house (bless those historic tax-credits), but I’m happy to continue investing in Baltimore.
From just one AirBNB host, Baltimore has gained a rapidly growing social impact company, dozens of new jobs, several new residents and homeowners who have invested well over a million dollars in Baltimore City real-estate, and increased patronage of locally-owned shops and restaurants. And in the midst of all of this, hosts are engaging with folks from around the world to improve the public perception of Baltimore.
The economic and qualitative benefits of AirBNB far outweigh the measly $1M projected hotel-tax revenue. Rather than imposing restrictions on short-term rentals like AirBNB, Baltimore City Council should do everything in their power to help short-term rentals to thrive. Imagine hundreds of stories like this? Or thousands? The impact is incalculable.