A young woman is increasingly enchanted by Chattanooga, thanks to her stays at Airbnb homes, and moves here with her husband to live and run an Airbnb house. But she is sharply rebuked by city council for thinking that she can serve guests at a rental house in Highland Park in which the couple don’t live.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
Melissa Mainwaring and her husband, Scott, are stunned after their appeal is ground up in a new public meeting protocol, a shortened time to speak and a wave-off by councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod who implies that their 2417 Kirby Ave. property is an offense because there is not enough affordable housing in the city.
“Why are we escaping where we live when we could live in the place where we escape to?” she wonders. The couple fled the Atlanta rat race to raise a family here, starting with a daughter. Thanks to Airbnb they made 15 visits. The couple couldn’t have afforded Bluff View Arts District, where they’d enjoyed their first stay, nor hotels elsewhere. But the Internet home-sharing diversified economy platform made it possible.
“Airbnb was the perfect solution for us. *** We stayed in St. Elmo, we stayed on North Shore, in Red Bank, in St. Elmo, on Missionary Ridge, in downtown, in East Brainerd. We stayed all over Chattanooga, and each time we did we found more reasons *** to love this place.” Airbnb homes, she says, are “an amazing and wonderful part of this city that opened it up to us in a way we never could have experienced otherwise. We live here now — and are really happy that we do.”
City council members are unanimous in rejecting this story.
Mrs. Coonrod asks Mrs. Mainwaring if she had met with the Highland Park neighborhood association (“No, ma’am,” is the nearly tremulous answer) and did she know this association of neighbors almost unanimously “had voted against” non-owner occupied short-term vacation rentals? No, she hadn’t known neighbors had such power.
Mrs. Coonrod lays forth her reasoning. There are too many people buying houses to rent out in her district (No. 9) and, instead, “we need to have sustainable housing in our communities, and for that reason I vote no, for non-owner occupied.”
The Mainwarings live near Audubon Acres in eastern Chattanooga, and Highland Park is near the city proper.
Mrs. Mainwaring gives perhaps one of the best five-minute presentations of the whole growth industry propelled by the decentralization of the vacation and overnight rental business. Airbnb opens up the people of Chattanooga to visitors from the Australian outback to Congo and Berlin, opens their lives and doings far more than a hotel might.
The Mainwarings aren’t the only parties to face the dead eye of city council members. A single “non-owner occupied” petition is approved.
One of three other losers is Katelyn Rau, a registered nurse whose husband, Jeff, sculpts jowls and boobs in a plastic surgery clinic in Houma, La. She says the vote against her will go better next time once changes are made for inspection. Electronic (vs. wired) smoke detectors are required, and a guardrail. Mrs. Rau says the denial is “unjustified,” but she will act as if it were, make the fixes and appeal once more.
Arbitrary power, censorious blockage
The Airbnb ordinance is unconstitutional on several grounds because it denies due process rights of property holders. This injury to the people starts at the so-called “overlay map” makes illegal distinctions between like parties. It is illegal for an ordinance to make “arbitrary and capricious” distinctions among people of similar standing, which the district does hundreds and hundreds of times. Follow the map line over hills, across valleys, down the streets. It excludes hundreds families on one side of the line from the prosperity via Airbnb, but allows others across the street to gain in a flourishing Chattanooga sector of the global digital economy.
No property holder is fighting back to defend property and due process rights; even those who’ve been cited to city court judge Sherry Paty’s bench seem either to not be fighting or to be having cases dropped.
The operation of an illegal ordinance — which city attorney Phil Noblett declines to attempt to undo — brings a pall onto Chattanooga society.
It rejects the free market concept of best use of a square of land and a structure. It is premised on the enforced stagnation that results from old theories of zoning. (Zoning is always a dead hand from the past controlling tomorrow’s growth.) It denies private people from having relations with other private people acting in personal capacity. It rejects the premise of Gig City, which implies superfast Internet, but also free Internet and free relationships. Mayor Berke is Chattanooga censor; he and city council raise a Beijing Wall around the city. They forbid the use of the Internet among those people who want fresh capital and to revitalize properties and neighorhoods by Airbnb.
Airbnb suppression is a moral issue in that it offends a human and constitutional right of thousands of families left out of the gig economy by design. It’s not a private wrong, but a public wrong. Mayor Berke enforces the ban at his office of economic development. He’s been set up, perhaps, to enforce it, but he’s complicit. A technocrat without a heart, an attorney in good standing who ignores his ethical duty to oppose any rule or law that violates the law and the equity, and a man who with his staff plays city, a game for children. That’s Mayor Berke.
Airbnb suppression ruins people such as Susan Biro and her sick husband, outside the magical district. They cannot get by on their government stipends and have no savings. He is dying of congestive heart failure.
Strangers = visitors = friends
Melissa Mainwaring makes a winning presentation to city council about how Airbnb stays won her and her husband, Scott, to move to Chattanooga. Only — it’s not a winning talk at all, but one met with deaf ears as her hopes are dashed under an arbitrary and capricious ordinance. (Photo NoogaRadio on FB)