Emanuel strengthens home-sharing ordinance yet again
Chicago Sun-Times | Fran Spielman
June 14, 2016

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has changed his plan to regulate and tax Airbnb and other home-sharing services so many times, aldermen don’t even know what they’re being asked to vote on.

Housing Committee Chairman Joe Moore (49th) has sarcastically referred to the parade of changes as the “substitute to the substitute to the substitute” ordinance.

Now, Emanuel has made what top mayoral aides claim will be one final round of changes in hopes of appeasing both sides of a volatile issue.

The latest tweaks include:

A new, $60-per-unit fee to generate more than $200,000-a-year for enforcement of the regulations. That’s in addition to a 4-percent surcharge on Airbnb and other home-sharing bookings and a $10,000 annual license for each of the web-based companies.

Bi-weekly registration reports to the city, a move that, the mayor’s office claims, will make Chicago the nation’s first major city to receive “information about short-term rental listings on a regular basis.” An earlier version called for monthly reports.

A requirement that Airbnb develop a plan to address “quality-of-life concerns” that includes “removal of problem units” from the company’s home-sharing platform. The home-sharing giant would also be required to establish an around-the-clock hotline with a direct connection to the city’s 311 non-emergency number.

A new provision that will allow condominium and homeowners’ associations along with the owners of buildings with five or more units to demand to be added to a “prohibited buildings” list where short-term rentals would be illegal. The city would then be responsible for screening registered units to determine if any were located in those buildings.

An anti-discrimination clause in response to allegations that African-Americans have been denied short-term rentals in other cities.

The home-sharing ordinance has set the stage for a sharing economy showdown similar to the one brewing between the taxicab industry and ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft over a controversial plan to license drivers for those services. 

The Airbnb fight features, on one side, homeowners who say they want and need the right to supplement their incomes by listing their homes or rooms within their homes on Airbnb.

On the other side are high-rise residents whose say their quality of life has been greatly diminished by home-sharing invaders and the bachelor-party atmosphere they sometimes bring. 

The latest round of changes are tailor-made to appease aldermen on both sides — whether Airbnb likes it or not.

The company almost certainly won’t be pleased about the $60-a-unit enforcement fee.

Already, Airbnb has argued that the 4-percent surcharge would generate just $950,000-a-year to fight chronic homelessness — less than half the city’s estimate — because of all of the safeguards tacked on to appease recalcitrant aldermen. Emanuel has said the surcharge would generate about $2 million.

Last month, Emanuel’s plan to slap a that surcharge on Airbnb and other home-sharing bookings cleared one legislative hurdle but not another after yet another round of changes.

Since then, a top mayoral aide has threatened to cut off negotiations with Airbnb and push through a stricter version of the home-sharing ordinance proposed by a pair of aldermen after a trade group bankrolled by internet companies launched a “seven-figure” advertising campaign on radio and television. 

Last week, Emanuel flatly predicted that a divided City Council would approve the ordinance at its June 22 meeting. Now, we know what aldermen will be voting on — barring even more last-minute tweaks.

“As we have a new, emerging industry, I want that industry to do well. But, I want it also to be a source for all people in Chicago. Even if you do not have a roof, you are a resident of the city of Chicago. And they will become the source now. As this industry emerges — Airbnb — we will have 4-percent surtax on the new industry to pay for homeless services and housing,” the mayor said, as the audience applauded.

Emanuel predicted that the surcharge would become a “model” for other cities to follow in the fight against chronic homelessness.

“We all learn from each other. We copy each other, then call it an original idea. That’s what we do in public service,” the mayor said. 

“A number of mayors are now looking at this. Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York. All cities are trying to grapple with the issue of homelessness and where do you find the revenue and the resources to address this problem? We have a novel idea in the city of Chicago.”