If you’ve been following my Airbnb series at all then you’ve heard me talk about “the why” (I do it), “the who” (is staying with me), “the how” (you set it up), but now I want to talk about “the what” - or more specifically, the so what. I want to share some of my perspective on why allowing residents to host Airbnb guests contributes to the vibrancy of a city. I will also explore why I think we need to set up systems and policies to encourage the sharing economy instead of seeing it as a disruption in our neighborhoods or threat to stability. From my perspective there are four primary benefits of being an Airbnb friendly community and hosting Airbnb guests:
- THE SIDE HUSTLE - It provides additional income for residents (which increases tax dollars collected)
- LOCAL FIRST - It supports Grand Rapids’ culture of localism
- COMMUNITY AMBASSADORS - It allows visitors to be welcomed to our community by passionate community ambassadors
- OPTIONS - It provides affordable, unique options for visitors
Now let me dive into those a bit...
THE SIDE HUSTLE
Ok, let me just put this out there: Airbnb is a legit side-hustle. Like Uber, Lyft, and other shared-economy businesses, it’s a solid way to earn some real cash. Just for context, I’m currently making about an extra grand a month. (And that’s just for a spare bedroom in an old house where you have to deal with a wild little dog and a common bathroom!) For Grand Rapids, a City with a median household income around $39,913 (according to the 2014 census), an extra ~$12,000 (pre-tax) for simply using the space you already pay for is not something to scoff at. For homeowners, that extra income could help pay down a mortgage, make home improvements, cover utilities, put extra money toward student loans or contribute towards savings. I know fellow-hosts who use a percentage of their Airbnb income to support local non-profits that they are passionate about and others who use it exclusively to travel. For me, it’s a combination of things.
For many in GR, having extra income to put toward home expenses without having to get a second job or take in additional roommates is a huge opportunity. According to The Regional Consolidated Community Development Report the total number of cost-burdened households (which is defined as, those paying 30% or more of their income toward housing expenses) in the City of Grand Rapids currently sits at 25,220 households. Of those, 9,075 are home-owners. That’s a significant number of people who are likely looking for unique ways to offset their home costs. Even for those of us in our late 20’s/early 30’s who have good jobs and no longer want roommates (as delightful as they may be!), but are still looking for ways to earn extra income, it’s a great option. I had wonderful roommates for many years but what I like about Airbnb versus a long term renter is that I can choose to block days that I don’t want guests. This comes in handy when I know I have a busy week, or want a guest room available for friends/family who are in town. It’s flexible, it’s manageable, and it’s an asset I already possess.
Having guests in my house on a regular basis makes me think about my space a lot - the cleanliness, the design, the vibe - all of it. Due to that frequent attention, I’ve found myself making more investments over the past nine months then in the previous three years combined. The reason I don’t mind making investments in my house - and even ENJOY it - is because I know that every investment I make is a decisions to “vote with my dollars”. What I buy, and where I buy it matters.
Research shows that when $100 is spent at a local business that $68 of that stays right here in the community, vs. the $43 that stays when that same $100 is spent at a non-local business. I know that I have the choice to support fellow local businesses, or big box stores. To purchase new flooring from Verhey Carpets, which was a Wealthy Street staple long before the bakeries and beards, and to invest in beautiful statement pieces from local artists like Amy Carroll instead of a grab-and-go prints from Ikea. I like only having to drive a mile to snag stain and supplies at Rylee’s Ace Hardware vs. hoofing it out to 28th Street. I've also really enjoyed having the financial flexibility to hire some talented GR entrepreneurs like Steve Naylor (Paintworks) to do my interior painting, Kelley Howley (Hunt & Gather) to consult on interior design decisions, and my will-work-for-food neighbor who keeps my yard lookin' fresh. These are my decisions, my investments, because I know that every one of those shops, families, and individuals are making similar investments in our local economy.
I have learned that, as a host, I have the option of influence on what version of Grand Rapids my guests get to see. Every-single-time a guest asks me for a suggestion on where to go/eat/shop/visit they have taken me up on at least one or two of my recommendations. I encourage them to go see Jason and Peter at the Cakabakery, to have a drink at one of Larry’s restaurants - perhaps Derby Station in Gaslight Village, or Logan’s Alley on Michigan or the new Little Lucy’s in the Creston neighborhood. I tell them that Terra has great happy hours and that Harmony’s Good Earth pizza is my all time favorite. I clue them in on the delicious egg sammies at That Early Bird, the margs at Donkey, and that my #1 cocktail can be found on the NW side of town at Long Road Distillers. I encourage them to walk over to Rebel.Reclaimed, because they have the most unique gifts in town (and because Chip is the best), to check out Erica’s bomba$$ prints and clothing at Woosah and to grab a juice at Malamiah in the Downtown Market. If they are looking for the best boutiques in town, I steer them towards my personal go-to’s: Lee & Birch, Denym and Gina’s. They always go, and they are always impressed. This level of care and commitment towards being a community ambassador matters just as much for local businesses as it matters for the guests. They get to dine, shop and visit wonderfully curated local gems that are recommended based on their individual preferences. They get to see the many great neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. They aren’t stuck choosing between franchise stores they have in their own city for lunch and they don’t have to resort to the mall as the only option for a new outfit.
The majority of guests that I have hosted were choosing to stay in an Airbnb for two primary reasons: to stay in a walkable neighborhood, to save money, or a combo of both. As mentioned in a previous post, just under half of my guests are fellow Michiganders and many of them decide on a whim if they are going to visit. They book last minute and often have the option to drive home if they don’t find a place to stay, or they simply decide not to come. Many of them keep hearing about how great Grand Rapids is and they want to explore the neighborhoods, try the restaurants and, of course, drink the beer. They ride the Rapid, they visit our museums, they spend their money in local restaurants and businesses. They go to Stella’s, to Founders, to Bombay. They see shows at the Pyramid Scheme, the Intersection, the Arena. And then they catch an Uber back to Eastown, grab a quick Yesterdog, a gyro at Sami’s or a nightcap at Billy’s. The crowd that stays with me and my dog for $55/night in Eastown, is simply not the crowd that would be forking over $250 for a night at the Amway Grand, albeit a wonderful hotel.
Staying in an Airbnb is a great option for people who don’t have other options. I hosted a couple from a small town in Ohio recently that had been saving up for weeks to go to a concert in GR and stay the night. The woman was a manager at an Arby’s and her boyfriend was a car mechanic. It was a big deal for them to take two days off work. They were so happy when they heard about Airbnb because it provided an opportunity for them to enjoy a mini-vacation. They had actually driven to Grand Rapids for concerts before, but in the past, they would literally drive the 5 hours back to Ohio because the nearby hotels were out of their price range. Finally, they were able to find a nice, safe place to rest that was under $60 a night.
An independent videographer from Detroit recently shared a similar sentiment. He said he certainly couldn’t afford to stay in the downtown hotels because it would cut so far into his margin that he’d be losing money on the shoot. He had tried the “affordable hotel” route but the ones that “weren’t too bad” had increased their rates from $80/night to $118 over the course of the last 12 months. Not to mention, these hotels are typically out on a busy commercial thoroughfare that doesn’t display the best of what our community has to offer. He had resorted to driving back and forth to Detroit for every shoot until his son told him about Airbnb. He stayed with me for his first time a few weeks ago and he was so relieved to cut out the 5+ hours/day of driving - and it only cost him the price of tank of gas.
Let’s make Grand Rapids a city that ENCOURAGES homesharing. That welcomes people. That allows for its residents to build capital in unexpected ways that contribute to a growing economy. To encourage residents to think creatively, to learn the responsibilities of having your own small business, while still having the support of a large community. To share our stories, to make improvements, to patronize other local businesses. There is so much possibility from the good that comes out of the human connections that Airbnb creates. Let’s be a community that’s leaning in to the possibilities instead of creating more rules, regulations and red tape. Let’s stop being afraid of "what could happen” and let’s instead focus on all of the amazing things that could happen, if we let them.