Tonight, city leaders will hear from Grand Rapidians on both sides of a home-sharing debate. Grand Rapids and the Gold Coast was ranked the top travel destination of 2014 by Lonely Planet, and with Artprize just over a month away, home-sharers want to be able to help support the crowd. The use of the travel websites like Airbnb has been a hotly debated issue all summer. Airbnb is a website that allows home-owners to rent their extra rooms or space to visitors for as little as one night at a time. The service was founded by 3 friends in San Francisco in 2008 and is now active in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries.
Airbnb allows visitors to search and find a rental in any area, and then chat with the renters about their space and terms before they travel -- all online. These new digital platforms -- like the ride-sharing service Uber -- are part of what is being called the "sharing economy." However, opponents say these upstarts cause concern for numerous issues such as zoning ordinances, fears about safety and what impact these services could have on long-time businesses.
Although many cities around the world are struggling with how to handle the ever-growing sharing economy, Grand Rapids was ranked one of "7 cities where the sharing economy is freshly under attack."
The city commission has proposed a compromise to Airbnb, but supporters will be at the commission meeting tonight to say the regulations are still too strict. If accepted, only one room in the home can be rented at a time, the home must be owner-occupied, and the homeowner would have to pay nearly $300 for a license. Also, the city would grant no more than 200 licenses, and owners would have to notify all neighbors within 300 feet of the property about the rental situation. As tough as these rules seem, they could have been worse: A year ago, Grand Rapids was suggesting that homeowners would have to pay $2,000 for a license to advertise and rent using services like Airbnb.
The city commission will hear final arguments and be presented a petition signed by nearly 400 supporters at their meeting tonight. A final vote will take place on August 26.