The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
I live in the rust belt city of Dayton Ohio, which has over 13,000 vacant properties, and where about 1/3 of the city's population is below the poverty line. I inherited 2 rental houses from my late parents, who were both factory workers. As you might imagine, in this situation the competition for long term residential rentals is such that rents in my neighborhood have tended to be very low. Still, I am near downtown as well as a university, and there are always some people who must come to town for business and family events. Along with the houses themselves, I had the household furnishings and contents from both my parents and grandmother. I long thought I could make more money, and retain better control of my properties, if I could use all this STUFF to set them up as guest houses. In addition, I love to travel and as a member of Friendship Force, I've enjoyed welcoming people from all over the world to the Birthplace of Aviation. I had researched VRBO and HomeAway for this purpose, but the costs of using those platforms was prohibitive. When Airbnb came along, I could immediately see it offered the tools and safety features - similar to eBay- that would allow me to try my guest house idea. Two years on, I am able to maintain my houses and turn a modest profit. Having guests from around the world has encouraged my neighbors to take more pride in where we live, and has stimulated an overall improvement in upkeep and morale. I, like the majority of Airbnb hosts, am female. I'm also 63 years old, single, and still work part time in a hospital. I do not have much in the way of a retirement fund. Airbnb has provided me with the tools to succeed in a very difficult location. I am scrupulous about the guests I accept, and make it clear that I expect guests to be good neighbors during their stay. My accommodations include security systems, smoke alarms, and fire extinguishers. First aid supplies are available, and as an Emergency Room nurse, I maintain certification for a range of mishaps, including Hazmat and other disasters. My houses are registered rentals. I pay property taxes on the buildings and income tax on the income. There are no mechanisms in place for taxing me as a "hotel" with only 2 rooms. My prices are comparable to the low end of the downtown hotels, but from what they tell me, my guests choose the Airbnb experience because they prefer something more unique and personal than the homogenous sterility and scripted faux sincerity typical of the corporate chain hotels. Airbnb is serving a different market segment - one that will never be as happy with commercial lodging choices as they are with the quirky and often delightful details of an Airbnb listing. They don't want to stay in the (INSERT NAME OF HOTEL CHAIN HERE) at all, and when I travel, neither do I. I am willing to pay more to stay somewhere more - interesting. As has happened many times before, government regulations have not kept up with the technology and cultural shifts at work here in the peer-to-peer marketplace. Like eBay before it, Airbnb provides a platform that makes it economically feasible for ordinary people to make use of the resources they already have - be that the "junk" from their attic or the in-law apartment in their basement - to help support themselves and their families. We are only doing what Americans have always done in hard times - find new ways to use our resources and make do!