Commentary: Money at heart of home-sharing fight

A holiday in the hospital can deaden one’s soul.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a patient or a visitor. It doesn’t matter how kind and caring the nurses are. The fluorescent lights, the dry air, the hushed conversations and the specter of suffering are oppressive.

That’s how it felt to be with my grandfather in a Springfield hospital for a weekend earlier this year. As he drifted to sleep, I realized I should probably find a place to do the same. The thought of staying in a similarly sterile hotel made me nauseous.

So I pulled out my phone.

The Airbnb app helped me find a cheap room in a house nearby. I was greeted by a woman who told me of her own struggles with sick family members. She reassured me that things would be OK and then made me some tea.

The next morning I woke up ready to be a good grandson.

Home-sharing services such as Airbnb can be a great way for consumers to find boarding on short notice and for homeowners to make extra money. But like so much else in Illinois, government is getting in the way.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel thought he knew what was best for city visitors and homeowners when he signed a 58-page ordinance severely limiting home-sharing in June.

The hotel industry shelled out thousands of dollars to city officials to secure their support for the measure.

The ordinance slaps a new tax on homeowners who home-share, forces a new limit on the number of units per building where hosts can rent through home-sharing services, and sets a new mandate dictating that hosts keep records on guests.

Those are just the parts that are understandable. Many aspects of the ordinance are so vague or dense that no average homeowner could grasp the meaning without a lawyer. Even then, a lawyer could only guess.

The new regulations pose a serious problem for Chicagoans such as Alonso Zaragoza. The 37-year-old Windy City librarian purchased his first piece of property in April, a three-flat on Chicago’s southwest side. Zaragoza wants to rent out the first floor apartment on Airbnb.

Read more of this My Journal Courier op-ed by Austin Berg by clicking here.