Fabiola Santiago

Miami and Miami Beach fight against Airbnb is laughable

Explaining the fight between Airbnb and Miami-Dade municipalities

Miami-Dade County is one of the top five Airbnb destinations in the country, with 6,800 hosts renting their homes. But for the past year, Miami Beach has been fining locals who rent on platforms like Airbnb $20,000 for each violation.
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Miami-Dade County is one of the top five Airbnb destinations in the country, with 6,800 hosts renting their homes. But for the past year, Miami Beach has been fining locals who rent on platforms like Airbnb $20,000 for each violation.

All the fuss about Airbnb in Miami-Dade is laughable.

The concept of renting a room in one’s house — or better yet, el eficiensi in the back — is about as old-fashioned an idea as growing our own avocados.

This is, after all, the capital of exiles, immigrants and all sorts of transient residents who straddle more than one world. How do you think so many newcomers with limited resources got their start in South Florida if not by renting for a few months in somebody’s house?

The only new twists are that now there’s a popular middleman to bring in potential renters: the home sharing service Airbnb, which operates worldwide. And that travelers, for the most part, only stay for short periods of time. Not months, like the people who came from Cuba and the family here had no place to house them, so the exile grapevine went to work until a room was found.

So stop acting, mayors of Miami and Miami Beach, like Airbnb’s presence is some huge affront to our way of life.

What it entails — someone making an extra buck off their property — has been here for a long time and you know it. Airbnb just brought the practice out of the closet and online. Together with services like Uber and Lyft, born of recessionary times and birthed by young entrepreneurs who have a more open vision of the world than most of us, it’s part of the new “sharing economy.”

Deal with it, Miami and Miami Beach. You want to play in the Big City Leagues, you want to be an international destination, but sometimes you act like antiquated country bumpkins. Home rentals are a worldwide option for travelers who want more than the same old touristy fare.

Home sharing should be part of the South Florida mix.

One of the joys of independent travel is living like the natives. No cookie-cutter hotel stay compares to being able to rent an apartment in splendid cities with great walking neighborhoods like Paris, Barcelona and Buenos Aires.

I know. Before Airbnb even existed, I started using such services to rent apartments in all three cities — and I’ve treasured the experience every time. Buying fresh croissants for breakfast at a nearby boulangerie in the company of locals. Getting off-the-beaten-path tips from interesting neighbors and hosts, like directions to the little ethnic grocery store from where you can make cheap calls home like the immigrants do. Feeling so much a part of the scene that you start acting like you belong.

In Barcelona I helped a non-Spanish speaking Swede who had locked herself out of her apartment on a weekend night, and the next day, I walked out to explore the city to a bottle of wine at my door with a thank-you note. Nice.

I can go on and on, but most of all, what makes a room or apartment rental special is the feeling of returning to the comfort of “home” after a day of adventures.

Protectionist attitudes toward the hotel industry are behind the pushback in Miami Beach and Miami. But Miami-Dade and Broward counties approved tax deals with Airbnb on Tuesday. That levels the industry playing field and brings more tax dollars for services.

Time to stop the theater and embrace home and ride sharing.

Who doesn’t know someone who takes viejitos to the doctor’s as a side gig? Or older couples without a pension who rent out the efficiency in the back to the latest balsero to arrive without family to make ends meet? The comedy duo Los Pichy Boys captured Miami’s unique cultural spin on home sharing in a hilarious video of a newcomer showing off his new “mansion” to family in Cuba, when all he rented was a tiny room in the back of a Hialeah house.

How quickly our elected officials forget who they represent.

They’re the ones killing quality of life and messing with people’s abilities to make a living by overbuilding and creating traffic nightmares all over the place. They hand over tax breaks and incentives to developers and big business over the interests of residents all the time without weighing consequences. And then they go nuts when people who aren’t big campaign donors want to join their capitalist game.

Remember the old booster motto, “Miami, see it like a native?”

Well, Airbnb allows visitors to do just that.

Now, let the little guy make a buck off the tourists, too.

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