After a presentation about the growing presence of Airbnb and other home-share companies in the city and a robust discussion among its members, the College Station City Council has directed city staff to gather feedback from home-share, hotel and other tourism stakeholders.

The city is likely missing out on hotel tax revenue because — unlike the state of Texas — the city does not have an agreement with Airbnb or other home-share entities about sharing tax revenue.

Brian Piscacek, assistant to the College Station city manager, delivered a presentation on home sharing to the council Thursday evening. He defined home sharing as “lodging in people’s homes where the owners or long-term-lessees reside.” He said it often caters to those less likely to afford hotels, and to those who prefer neighborhoods.

“The purpose of the presentation was to give an overview of the home-sharing rental model, how cities are addressing it and how it affects us here locally in terms of regulation and enforcement,” Piscacek said in a Friday phone interview.

Airbnb estimates that Brazos County bookings during the 2018 football season resulted in $963,000 in host income through about 8,500 guest arrivals.

The Eagle reported in January that in 2018, more than 600 hosts welcomed guests about 28,000 times in Brazos County through Airbnb, earning about $2.9 million in host income. About 30,000 Texans shared their homes as Airbnb hosts last year. 

Piscacek explained that traditional hotels within the city’s limits pay 6% in hotel occupancy taxes (HOT) to the state, 7% in city taxes and another 2.75% to Brazos County.

He added that Airbnb has an agreement with the state of Texas to collect and remit the 6% in state taxes short-term rentals booked through the Airbnb website, but that in many cities and counties, it is incumbent on rental owners themselves to send tax revenues to the appropriate jurisdictions, which most operators do not do.

“The issue is that if there is not an agreement in place for any other level of government, be it county or local, [Airbnb does] not,” Piscacek said. “The host is responsible for collecting and remitting to their local government entities.”

Piscacek said that concerns about affordable housing also play a role in the home sharing discussion, particularly if someone purchases a home primarily to rent that might otherwise be occupied by someone intending to live there.

Piscacek said that in New Orleans, a major tourist destination, 11% of property operators — many of whom live outside Louisiana — control about 42% of the city’s short-term rentals.

The council’s members engaged in a lively discussion following Piscacek’s presentation, with most members expressing a desire to have the city staff gather feedback from the issue’s stakeholders, from hotel owners to home-share operators and others.

Mayor pro tem Linda Harvell said that she requested the conversation.

“I want to continue to see this on the agenda until we can get something created where we can have some of this revenue coming back to the city,” Harvell said.

She said that she would like to see Airbnb and other home-sharing options required to meet the regulatory standards that area hotels must meet, particularly for safety regulations.

Carla Robinson, College Station’s attorney, said during the meeting that the city’s current ordinances, which are geared more toward traditional bed and breakfasts, make it unclear how to proceed if the city wants to bolster regulations on short-term rental policies.

“If the council is considering enforcing short-term rentals in some way, I would suggest that you consider an ordinance that would be specifically addressing sort-term rentals,” Robinson said. 

Last month, Airbnb and the Houston First Corporation announced an agreement allowing Airbnb to collect and remit the city of Houston’s hotel tax, which an Airbnb release said would bring millions of dollars in revenue to the city. Airbnb has similar agreements with more than 400 local government entities.

The Houston Chronicle reported that before the agreement, only 174 people had identified with the city as a short-term rental host, despite the presence of more than 6,000 Houston Airbnb listings.

“The overarching issue here is that we recognize that it is a growing market, and that just as you couldn’t have projected what Uber has done over the last 10 years, Airbnb is the same way,” Piscacek said. “It’s been around for about a decade, and its growth has just exploded. Local and regional officials are responding to this new platform that creates this opportunity.”

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