Rexburg resident Lucas Handy can’t stop singing praises of Airbnb, the home-sharing service that’s allowed him to host people from around the world in his spacious abode.
“I can make friends with anyone across the world and offer them some of my resources at a super good rate,” Handy said last week.
Rebecca Bohman, who lives just outside Ammon city limits, raves about her experiences hosting Airbnb guests a few times a month.
“I think the world be better if there were more Airbnbs around,” Bohman said. Her guests have exposed her kids to more culture than she expected, while earning the family a little extra income each month.
Handy and Bohman face two divergent paths forward. Bohman, outside municipal boundaries and free from restrictive zoning ordinances, continues to offer her home to guests. Handy, on the other hand, is the victim of government overreach.
Handy received a code enforcement call from the city of Rexburg a few weeks ago. Because he lives in a low-density residential zone, city code bans him from renting his spare room on a short-term basis. He was forced to close his doors to guests.
Rexburg finds itself embroiled in a political flap officials may not have expected. At the heart of the issue: Do individuals have the right to control their personal property so long as they don’t harm or unduly disturb others?
Last Wednesday, the Rexburg mayor and city council heard comment after comment in support of the right of property owners to share their resources so long as guests don’t disturb or directly harm neighbors. Every person who testified shared stories depicting how home-sharing has enriched their lives.
Rexburg Mayor Jerry Merrill pledged to keep an open mind about the home-sharing issue and suggested maybe city code needs to align with the modern economy. That’s laudable. If government trusts people to handle their affairs, his city will benefit greatly from the sharing economy.
Handy and Bohman said they earned hundreds and even thousands of dollars hosting guests. As the nation continues to bring itself out of the Great Recession, and as Idaho wages continue to stagnate, Merrill must consider how that influx of dollars can aid Rexburg families.
Handy and Bohman used their Airbnb revenue to upgrade their homes, infusing new cash into the local economy. That’s a free market stimulus package Merrill should support.
Moreover, Handy and Bohman raved about other, unforeseen opportunities created by Airbnb.
“If we do this right as a people, we are really loving our neighbor,” Handy said. “We can touch the lives of anyone traveling. If everybody wanted to open up a spare room and become an awesome host, Rexburg could change thousands of lives for the better.”
Bohman said guests from China and the Czech Republic have shared their culture with her four kids.
“We are amazed by the people who come here,” she said.
New and inventive businesses like Airbnb and VRBO may cause discomfort for some but then again, so did the Internet. That’s no excuse to close opportunity's door on many Rexburg families. Antiquated government rules must evolve to sync with the modern economy’s innovative solutions.
Instead of defaulting toward a government answer, let’s trust neighbors to work together to find the best solutions that build strong communities.