You may have read about the battle brewing in cities, including here in Spanish Town, over regulations relating to Airbnb. While this concept of folks renting out a roomâ€”or even their entire homeâ€”to short-term visitors continues to grow across the world, it has now brought some unintended consequences. While some Spanish Town residents have been renting out a room or two in their home, it seems investors are now looking to buy houses in the residentially zoned historic neighborhoodâ€”with no intention of living thereâ€”and effectively creating a â€śsmall hotel.â€ť This would seem to be a purely commercial enterprise requiring commercial zoning.
Some argue the new owners for such ventures are fixing up run-down houses in the neighborhood, which seems a good thing, and government could simply limit the number of allowable â€śwhole houseâ€ť ventures. But residents, including some who rent rooms in their homes, argue a cap on short-term rental permits, which must be purchased, will enable these â€śnew hoteliers,â€ť with deeper pockets, to corner the permit market, leaving single-room renters out. They also make a good point that the new owners donâ€™t live in the homes. It is purely a commercial investment which attracts a different type of temporary resident or user that isnâ€™t always neighborly and has no personal investment in Spanish Town. They complain it can get rowdy and out-of-town crowds renting the homes gobble up precious parking. (Hey, itâ€™s being used as a hotel or beach house, not simply a residence to lay your head down for the night.) You could see where Spanish Town residentsâ€”or any homeownerâ€”never really expected this to be the case in a quiet, historic neighborhood.
Years ago, many homeowners left Beauregard Town, resulting in residential houses being converted into offices. (There are some such offices in Spanish Town, too.) It changes the use and environment of a neighborhood since some structures are only occupied during the day. The same could happen with the transient nature of â€śhotel guestsâ€ť via whole houses used by Airbnb. There is no community when folks come and go. Would you be happy with such a situation next door to you in your residential neighborhood?
A similar issue arose years ago with homes in neighborhoods around the LSU campus being used for student housing. In quiet neighborhoods, like Plantation Trace, investors would buy a house and essentially convert it to a â€śsmall dorm,â€ť renting it out to four or more students. The parties and numerous cars they attracted into the wee hours of the morning were a disruption to those who lived in these quiet, single-family zoned, residential neighborhoods. Regulations and enforcement were necessary to correct this problem before it increased. Owners have property rights, but homeowners and neighborhoods have a right to subdivision restrictions, zoning laws and enforcement they can count on to enjoy the lifestyle they intended when they bought their dream homeâ€”and not have their decision turn into a nightmare.
This does not just involve individuals buying houses for such ventures. A recent headline in The Washington Post read, â€śMarriott dives into home-rental market to keep an edge on Airbnb.â€ť The article said Hilton and Hyatt are also looking at home rentals. How is Baton Rouge going to handle an issue that other cities are already dealing with? Visit Baton Rouge also noted this can affect hotel-motel taxes for the city. The DDD says there are currently 30 downtown homes listed on Airbnb.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker is the representative for Spanish Town and says she plans to have several community meetings after several smaller private ones were held that certain residents were not invited to attend. This is a serious issue that needs much discussion and serious review. But this isnâ€™t just a Spanish Town problem. Others like the mayor, Metro Council, real estate agents, homebuilders, the Growth Coalition and neighborhood associations should all have input. Airbnb is here to stayâ€”just like Uber and Lyftâ€”and such changes will continue to affect every area of our lives and businesses, requiring us to revisit the old rules and adjust them for what works for today, even if that means new regulations. But I still believe some thingsâ€”like buying a home (or renting) and living in a quiet subdivision with your neighborsâ€”should be possible and protected.
Gov. Edwards misses mark
I attended a PAR gubernatorial forum with Gov. John Bel Edwards and Congressman Ralph Abraham attending and answering questions. Businessman Eddie Rispone, who was out of town, did not attend.
At one point, there was a lighting round with questions and quick replies. One question was â€śIf you could change one thing in the Louisiana Constitution, what would it be?â€ť
Abraham said, â€śArticle 7. Revenue and finance.â€ť (This deals with our tax structure, dedications, exemptions and such.)
Edwards said. â€śChange the minimum wage to $9.â€ť
Does the governor truly believe that is the most important change we can make to our constitution to improve our future and bottom-of-the-barrel state ranking? Do you?
I think not.
Edwards did have a bill this session that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall so you could vote on the minimum wage issue. It died.
The $9 rate in the bill was up from the $8.50 he had previously proposedâ€”which also died. The current federal rate is $7.25.
There are arguments on both sides as to why raising the minimum wage is a good or bad idea and the real outcomes. I believe a tight labor market and the need for talented, educated workers and higher-paying jobs drives up wagesâ€”which are on the rise now nationally. But just raising the rate by law to $9 does not fix any of those issues. It just gives minimum wages workers $70 more a week. I doubt that will change the plight of those in poverty or impact our 50th state ranking with U.S. News & World Report.
The answers by Abraham and Edwards contrast two different views. Abrahamâ€™s reflected his understanding of a major root problem and a system structure from 1974 that, after 45 years, is outdated and in need of fundamental change as we look to the future.
The governorâ€™s answer seems to miss the real reasons we have so many folks earning minimum wage. He was focused more on this legislative session and the next electionâ€”and his aim was very low. I mean, if you are going to be the champion of raising the minimum wage (which is likely not to pass), at least aim high. Arkansas is raising its hourly minimum wage to $11. Some states are going for $15. The new Louisiana Survey, conducted by the Manship Schoolâ€™s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, found that an increase to $15 an hour garnered 59% support. So, those who oppose the minimum wage increase will object to any amountâ€”and those who want an increase arenâ€™t going to be impressed or impacted much by $9. If you are going to lose anyway, aim high and propose $12, $13 or $15. Lose bigâ€”but, câ€™mon governor, at least best Arkansas.