Metro Council Continues to Pull a Sleight of Hand
BY RON SHULTIS
Recently, my wife surprised me with a visit to House of Cards for my birthday. If you’ve never been, House of Cards is a restaurant and bar in downtown Nashville with a speakeasy feel. It is unique in that magicians perform various magic tricks table-side. That night we were sitting there as one of the performers made coins disappear, invisibly move coins from one hand to the other, tear a dollar bill with a pencil and have it somehow reconnect, and even have a playing card with my name written on it that was in my hands appear into his wallet! If you’re like me, magic shows leave me befuddled and my mind blown. I know there is some secret to it, but for the life of me I can’t figure it out, making it seem like real magic.
In reality, it’s nothing more than a skilled sleight of hand. The magician is telling me to focus on something super intently, moving or doing something else while I’m distracted. Yet it fools me every time. But who shouldn’t fool us is the Nashville City Council. What’s their trick, you ask? Trying to get you to believe that short-term rentals are what ails the city instead of their disastrous management of the city’s finances.
Recently, a proposal was filed by a Council member with the Metro Planning Commission to downzone basically all of the Germantown neighborhood for the stated purpose “to remove the short term rental uses from the area.” The proposal is unusually extreme in that it would even ban owner-occupied properties where someone still lives in the home and occasionally rents out a spare bedroom for the night.
While state law says that anyone currently operating a short term rental must be grandfathered in should a local government choose to ban them after the fact, this would deprive potentially hundreds of homeowners and future homeowners the right to use their private property to make some extra income. And during the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been prolonged partially due to Nashville’s protracted shutdown, who couldn’t use an extra source of income?
Here’s the thing, if this was the first proposal to limit the use of short term rentals in Nashville it would be one thing; however, it’s not even close. Since 2019, there have been five proposals by the Council to limit or more heavily regulate short term rentals. During the last council’s term from 2015 to 2019, there were over 20 proposals to limit them in some way. With all this attention, you would think somebody trying to rent out their home is akin to running a crime ring in a basement or worse. Yet it all amounts to a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” play. The Council is trying to dupe us with a red herring that makes us believe that short term rentals are the scourge of the earth, all while distracting you from the real problem this city faces: its finances.
Just a few short weeks ago the Comptroller, the state’s money cop, had to remind Council members that the state may have to take over the city’s finances if it can’t balance and control its budget. How did they respond? In literally that same meeting, they shelved legislation that would have adjusted the lifetime healthcare benefit Council members receive. Not even limiting it for current members, just future members.
The worst part of all of this? Short term rentals bring in revenue for the city. In addition to paying a permit fee, owners who run a short term rental have to collect an occupancy tax similar to when you stay at a hotel. For a city that’s broke, with over twice the amount of debt as the entire state government, you’d think local elected officials would be looking for revenue anywhere they can. Especially since these taxes are mostly paid by out of town visitors. But silly us, why collect revenue from tourists when we can charge our constituents and businesses an extra 34% in property taxes?
Real leadership by Nashville city officials would first look to cut costs anywhere and everywhere. Even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, perhaps the most liberal mayor in the country, was willing to temporarily furlough city workers, even himself, to ease the city’s budget pain. Meanwhile, Nashville’s government hasn’t sacrificed at all.
Be afraid of short term rentals, be very afraid, says our government. Just pay no mind to this debt crisis up our other sleeve.