Activists Call for City to Use All Airbnb Tax Dollars on Affordable Housing

As Portland City Council moves forward on a plan to legalize some short-term home rentals and collect taxes from online broker Airbnb, activists and nonprofits are calling on City Hall to dedicate all of those new tax dollars to affordable housing.

City Council this morning cleared the way for a July 30 vote to approve a rule change that will permit Portland to do something no other city in America is yet willing to do: collect taxes from Airbnb's room rentals, legitimizing the company's operations.  

Documents first reported by WW show that the city of Portland expects to collect nearly $500,000 from hotel taxes on Airbnb rentals in the coming year.

Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish have both suggested sending some of that money to affordable housing. Saltzman's proposal to dedicate Airbnb tax dollars to affordable housing got a poor reception from the rest of City Council, The Portland Mercury first reported in June.

Today, a coalition of 15 housing nonprofits and advocates for low-income people are asking the city to dedicate the entire pool of new revenue to making sure the city's poorest citizens aren't displaced by DIY hotels.

"As the experience of other cities has demonstrated," the groups write, "short-term, Airbnb-style rentals pose an additional displacement threat. As landlords convert regular rental units to short-term rentals, existing tenants are displaced, and those units are removed from Portland's housing stock."

That worry has grown as Mayor Charlie Hales has pushed to expand the rule change to include apartments and condos. Local critics of Airbnb warn that legalizing short-term rentals in apartments could jack up rents in a city with a notorious housing shortage.

"There are clearly going to be winners, and some very compelling stories," Fish told WW earlier this month. "My concern is, the losers could be people who are unable to afford an apartment."

For more on the debate over short-term rentals, read WW's examination of Airbnb's lobbying efforts.

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