Kathe Latham’s OpEd © was November 20, 2022, in the Greensboro News & Record

Home ownership matters. It provides opportunities for wealth accumulation, stability, and social benefits for children. Homeowners are likely to take pride in their neighborhood and be more involved in its care.

My father was a builder. Although he trained to be a teacher, he worked construction on the weekends to support a growing family of eight children. Home building became his first passion, and he built several family homes as well as many others. We grew up with a deep appreciation for homeownership. Owning a home was denied so many people in the past that my Dad fought hard to build low-cost housing.

Unfortunately, recent trends have seen a decline in home ownership due to an even shorter supply of affordable housing. The predatory nature of wealthy investors buying up the already short supply of affordable housing units and turning them into rental properties, tourist homes and Airbnb’s, further drives up the cost of owning a home.

I live in a town home community. Town homes are particularly appealing to seniors on fixed incomes due to affordability and also the safety and security of knowing and trusting your neighbors. We are a well-connected community who care for and look out for each other. My next door neighbor’s plans to turn her rental unit into an Airbnb changes all that. I will be sharing a wall with essentially strangers in a hotel room.

Public anger over Airbnbs, growing in numerous towns across the country, has pushed many city councils such as Los Angeles, Virginia Beach and Asheville to ban Airbnbs or seriously curtail their use. However, the city of Greensboro is in the process of bucking that trend by relaxing the standards that govern Airbnbs. The city determined the closest equivalent use for an Airbnb to be a “Tourist Home/Bed and Breakfast,” which is allowed in all Residential Single Family and Multifamily zoning districts. They are subject to certain standards which will change dramatically unless the citizens of Greensboro let their city council members know how they feel. Last year, the mayor convened a working group of supposedly community stakeholders, with the professed objective to create a balance between serving tourists who come to the city for special events and the needs of property owners to protect the character and livability of the existing neighborhood.

Within a few months, the Short Term Rentals Working Group recommended a set of amended regulations that relax the standards considerably in favor of Airbnb owners with zero added protection to the communities directly affected. The City’s Planning Department hosted two virtual information sessions to hear from the public. But this process was also heavily weighed with Airbnb owners and their allies in the business community. You can watch videos of the public comment sessions on the City of Greensboro’s Planning and Zoning Dept. webpage. It does not appear that there were any participants in this process who represented the needs of local homeowners who have major concerns about the expansion of commercial activity in established residential areas, and increased activity by large group gatherings, leading to potential impacts of noise, loud parties, lack of parking and lax security. 

Proposed new regulations delineate different guidelines between “homestays” and “whole house” rentals. The latter would allow an owner to designate an “operator” or management company to be the point of contact for HOA management companies, making regulation close to nil. This effectively allows absentee landlords to designate management companies who are already managing too many properties. They certainly will not be available to neighbors with concerns. The question is who will?

The city’s proposed ordinance amending the Greensboro Code of Ordinances can also be viewed on the Planning and Zoning Dept. webpage. The city council will be voting on these regulations soon without any notice to local constituents. We should focus on preserving Greensboro for its local residents, and expanding more low cost housing instead of encouraging existing housing units to be gobbled up by wealthy tourists and commercial interests.  The more the public is aware of these proceedings, the steeper the odds will be of passage. Let your voices be heard before it’s too late.