While Raleigh residents technically aren't allowed to rent out their homes as short-term rentals, some city staff members have been using Airbnb for lodging when they travel for work.
Four Raleigh employees stayed at an Airbnb in Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest festival this month. It was at least the third time city staffers have used the online rental service in the past year.
Short-term rentals like Airbnb are banned within Raleigh, but city leaders haven't enforced the rules for years while they try to create regulations. Some people have been frustrated by the lack of progress on the issue.
Critics of short-term rentals say the service can increase traffic and noise in neighborhoods, and take away affordable long-term living spaces. Supporters say it can boost tourism and help property owners earn extra income.
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"Airbnb or short-term rental in Raleigh is a City Council policy and they are evaluating that," said Assistant City Manager Jim Greene.
The city's policy doesn't dictate that employees have to stay in a hotel, but that the lodging has be reasonably priced.
It was unclear Thursday how much it cost staffers to stay at an Airbnb for this month's SXSW, an annual film, technology and music festival. The city spent $2,245 for staff members to spend eight nights at an Airbnb in Austin for last year's festival. It spent $298 for staff to stay three nights last June at an Airbnb in Memphis, Tenn., for an Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals seminar.
"Obviously these are public funds on our travel and training and we want to make sure we are using those funds wisely," Greene said. "Our expectation is that employees look at reasonable costs for those accommodations."
The Raleigh Chamber of Commerce coordinated this year's trip to SXSW for several groups, including the city of Raleigh, and has for the last few years. Raleigh is one of several cities and regions that set up booths to showcase what they have to offer.
"We promote Raleigh and Wake County," Greene said. "We talk about our open and inclusive and diverse community. We emphasize small business and entrepreneurs. We talk Raleigh being a competitive tech hub and the strong talent pool and quality of life we have here."
A task force appointed by the Raleigh City Council studied short-term rentals for months before submitting a series of recommendations last year. The council delayed voting on the proposed rules and sent them to the Economic Development and Innovation Committee. The council took back up the issue in November, but failed to approve a set of recommendations. The issue isn't officially in any council committee now.
But that's not to say Raleigh property owners don't rent out their homes anyway. North Carolina residents who rented out their homes on Airbnb made $97 million in 2017, with $3.8 million coming from Raleigh rentals, according to the company.