airbnb seattle Screenshot: AirbnbAction/YouTube 

If you own a TV, listen to the radio or have internet access in the Seattle area, by now you’ve probably experienced one of Airbnb’s new ads. They are hard to miss. The ad campaign comes in response to a proposed city ordinance that would impose new regulations and taxes on short-term rental hosts. Advocates of the legislation argue that owners who operate their properties like hotels are having a negative impact on Seattle’s long-term housing market and are making the city less affordable. Now Airbnb has set out to prove them wrong.

The ads feature three diverse Seattle residents sharing how short-term rentals have made a difference in their lives. Each resident describes how extra income from Airbnb allows them to afford to live in an increasingly expensive city that they’d otherwise have to leave. To pack an extra punch, the ads emphasize the economic benefits for neighborhood businesses when short-term renters spend money at Seattle bars and restaurants.

Sponsored by Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess and others, the proposed ordinance would require short-term rental hosts to obtain a license if they plan to rent their property out more than 90 days of the year. Seems reasonable, right? Most people don’t have a problem with that piece of the puzzle. The real offender is the plan to prohibit Airbnb hosts from offering short-term rentals at properties other than their primary residence.

Advocates of the new regulations, like Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien, argue that every housing unit that could potentially be used for long-term rentals is worth protecting. A fair point given one recent study that predicts Seattle will need at least 50,000 new housing units by 2025. Proponents of the plan also assert that most Airbnb hosts only rent out one room in their house, not multiple separate properties, so the new regulations would have no affect on 80 percent of current hosts.

“Property owners are shifting hundreds of homes from the long-term residential market to short-term rental platforms like Airbnb, and in doing so dangerously reduce our housing supply,” said Burgess in a press release. “At the same time, Seattle homeowners offering short-term rentals in their own homes earn valuable supplemental income. These proposed regulations focus narrowly on the commercial operators that take advantage of home-sharing platforms to exacerbate our housing crisis.”

Airbnb and many Seattle hosts are clearly not convinced. Laura Rillos, a spokesperson for Airbnb, told My Northwest that the company is spending “six figures” on the new ad campaign. “We want to ensure policy-makers in the community understand who these Airbnb hosts are and get to know the every day Seattle-ite this ordinance will effect,” she said.

What do you think? Will regulations on Airbnb hosts make Seattle more affordable or hurt residents and the local economy?

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