The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
As an 18-year old high school graduate, I joined Youth for Understanding, an exchange program that shaped my life. While I was away, my family hosted several exchange students from various countries for periods of 3-12 weeks. Those students, 28 years later, still maintain a relationship with my parents, as I do with my host family. My program, Youth for Understanding, is an internationally recognized program and similar to ones that are easily found via a quick Google search (not including University or other Academia exchange programs): LA Cultural Excahnge International Academic Cultural Exchange, Inc. And while slightly different, but also a form of exchanging, or homesharing, popular programs such as Mindmyhouse.com or Trustedhousesitters.com and Couchsurfing.com fulfill an equally important and no less visible niche in a world where individuals are seeking to maximize the use of their home while exposing their family to alternative forms of enrichment. Families share their homes (homeshare) for their own personal reasons, as do individuals that choose to homeshare through sites like Airbnb. I'm sure each program has a story of a few "bad apples" or exchanges gone wild that alumnus talk about at reunions (I do, as does my family -- aren't these sometimes the instruments of change for all organizations?) Each organization adopted rules and regulations to make the exchanges safer, or less impactful, or more courteous, but in the end, the great divide and unpredictable element is the individual's willingness to obey the rules, or sadly explore new ways to break them. Because of the economic downturn, changes in job opportunity, extension of retirement, or any number of equally important and individualized needs for additional income, some individuals went back to school, some started a second or third job, some started a business, some began the journey of the sharing economy. The newness of the sharing economy meant that individuals had nowhere to turn and nowhere to go, but suddenly the opportunity to supplement previously earned income, or begin a new stream was compelling and much like the pioneers of the internet boom, tech boom, and other booms, homesharers forged ahead and what started as one home sharing occasionally has turned into a global wonder. I'm seeking your support on homesharing, of all types, be it cultural sharing, educational sharing, or the sharing of a couch in a bedroom. Sharing of the primary residence comes with responsibility, one that the homeowner fully accepts when they plant their deed, pay their taxes, and obtain their insurance. The responsibility doesn't end when a guest enters the door, in fact herein lies the opportunity for California and Los Angeles to benefit. To address this issue, we must first acknowledge that for every loud party, un-mowed lawn, parking issue, noise violation, other otherwise complaint that is filed, there are likely a disproportionate amount of stories of homes that are quite, of the lawns mowed, where people have come and gone and added to the community instead of subtracted from it. In your own experience, how likely are you to inform an establishment of the greatness that they've provided you upon leaving, versus sharing an immediate discomfort or inconvenience? Other than my military service, I've never reached out to government, let alone reached out asking for the government to do or solve something -- perhaps because it feels like everything else in life -- does my voice really matter? This time, I hope it does matter and this time I hope that I can help shape a revenue generating system that returns funds to my City and State to help solve issues that are far more lasting and far more impactful than whether or not a student pays to sleep on someone's couch or not. Thank you.