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Lincoln Park Being Sold Off As Airbnb Rental Properties, Alderman Says

By Ted Cox | June 15, 2016 1:51pm | Updated on June 16, 2016 8:40am
 Ald. Michele Smith said the Airbnb ordinance would
Ald. Michele Smith said the Airbnb ordinance would "hollow out neighborhoods."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Lincoln Park's alderman charged Wednesday that the neighborhood is being sold off as Airbnb commercial rental properties in the face of a massive property tax increase.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) made the comments as she rejected tweaks to a home-sharing ordinance submitted this week by the Emanuel administration.

Smith said the latest proposal from Mayor Rahm Emanuel "has not been a step forward, but a step backward."

"We are really being bullied by this $25 billion company," Smith said. "Unfortunately, the administration is allowing itself to be run over by these bullies."

Smith took issue with Emanuel's latest attempt to amend an ordinance on home sharing.

 Aldermen Scott Waguespack and Brendan Reilly discuss the home-sharing ordinance before a Wednesday committee meeting.
Aldermen Scott Waguespack and Brendan Reilly discuss the home-sharing ordinance before a Wednesday committee meeting.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"Fundamentally, there are still no restrictions on where they can operate," Smith said. "There are no limitations on the abilities of investors to buy up entire neighborhoods, which is what they're doing in mine."

Smith said Lincoln Park is "bearing the brunt of the city's property-tax increases, and our neighborhood is being sold off bit by bit to investors" who consider their purchases commercial rental properties to be marketed through Airbnb.

"Airbnb is saying, 'Live like a local,'" she added. "If you're living like a local, there aren't going to be any locals there."

The well-to-do lakefront neighborhood has been hit this year by the double whammy of a citywide reassessment, as its property values rebound from the 2008 recession faster than other areas, just as the city imposed a record $589 million increase in property taxes.

Aldermen remained uncertain Wednesday about the latest tweaks to the home-sharing ordinance affecting firms like Airbnb.

Emanuel administration officials held a three-hour meeting with aldermen Tuesday, but planned to submit what Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) called "yet another" proposal Wednesday, with more briefings set for Thursday.

"There was a lot more input provided in that meeting," Reilly said Wednesday. "The administration promised yet another round of tweaks."

Emanuel's initial ordinance cleared a committee last month, but was delayed until the June City Council meeting for more changes after Smith led opposition.

New administration proposals submitted Tuesday included a $60-a-unit fee to generate $200,000 for enforcement, biweekly registration reports, demands for Airbnb to address "quality of life" issues and meet the same anti-discrimination measures as hotels, and the allowance for condo and homeowner associations to prohibit home sharing.

Yet that wasn't enough for Smith, who said, "It's kind of like negotiating what color to paint the barn when you're trying to save the horses after they've already left."

Airbnb objected to the ordinance, saying it was too restrictive on where  home sharing can take place.

"We remain concerned about the impact of the mayor’s proposal on home sharing and tourism in Chicago, particularly around arbitrary density restrictions in multi-unit buildings that are not in the best interest of neighborhoods or regular Chicagoans," Airbnb spokesman Christopher Nulty said.

While saying, "My major concerns have generally been satisfied," Reilly too expressed concerns that the administration was being bulldozed by Airbnb, primarily on the issue of enforcement.

"We want to make sure the city has all the tools it needs to enforce the new laws, because that's been the problem with the current ordinance on the books," Reilly said. "Airbnb's preference, of course, is that the city has as few tools as possible. So we want to make sure there's no backsliding on enforcement."

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said he was eager to see the latest proposal and expected even more changes before next week's City Council meeting.

"There are a lot of different angles to this that haven't been addressed," he said, citing "the need for the administration to listen to what the issues for the aldermen are" where their constituents are concerned.

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