What happened today at the DC Council: Initiative 77 and Short Term Rentals
Today, I voted against a repeal of Initiative 77, the voter-passed referendum to end the tipped minimum wage. Unfortunately, the efforts of me and several of my colleagues to find a compromise solution were not successful and a majority of Councilmembers passed a repeal this afternoon. This means Initiative 77 will not go into effect.
While I didn’t support Initiative 77 at the ballot box, Ward 1 voters did. After the referendum passed, my colleagues could have introduced a compromise bill but chose a full repeal instead. This created a polarizing situation that could have been avoided. We are leaders and it’s our job to find common ground.
I promised to do just that, and I am proud of the compromise we put forward. It is the result of countless hours spent meeting with restaurant workers, owners, residents, advocates, and other tipped workers. We tried to address the real worries about preserving the livelihood of servers and bartenders while seeking to address underlying issues of inequity that we know exist. I want to thank Councilmember Elissa Silverman for her hard work on this compromise bill.
The compromise struck a balance. It would have kept the tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers and bartenders, but raised wages for all other tipped employees such as back of house restaurant workers, valets and others. It improved wage theft enforcement in the District, created incentives for new restaurants east of the Anacostia, and mandated sexual harassment training for employees and management.
I am disappointed that our compromise did not prevail and that the issue became so divisive and polarizing. I will not stop fighting to address issues raised by the referendum, especially the need to improve wage theft enforcement. In fact, during Council debate today I secured a public commitment from several of my colleagues to work collaboratively on a bill I will be introducing to strengthen wage theft enforcement by moving enforcement from our employment services agency to the Attorney General.
Today, I joined the majority of my colleagues in voting for new rules for short term rentals like Airbnb, VRBO and other services. Council has been talking about this issue for two years. In 2016, I introduced a resolution calling on the zoning commission to clarify existing rules because they were vague and I believe we need a framework. The goal is to strike a balance between people using the services to make some extra money, and commercial-style enterprises that take affordable and family-sized housing off the market.
I’ve had many conversations in the community from people who use the rentals and people who host them. They add an important element to our economy. In my discussions, some asked me to support allowing owners to rent one additional home on the short-term market, and to allow additional days for vacation rentals. I seriously considered these ideas. But what it comes down to in the end is available housing and the effect these rentals have on the overall housing stock in DC, especially on family-sized homes. When a home is not available on the long-term market for families to rent or own it means another family cannot live in our community.
In order to preserve the family sized units and affordable housing in the district I support this bill. And I support a framework to ensure safety and accountability. It’s not about restricting people from being able to earn some extra cash, it’s about commercial operators that are taking housing off the market and that is hurting our communities.
The bill will create new short-term rental licenses that allow operators to either:
- Host short term rentals at their primary residence for an unlimited number of days provided the operator is on the premises when renting it out. An example would be renting spare rooms in a house you own while you are present. If you are on the premises, there is no limit to the number of rooms you can rent.
- Host short term rental guests for up to 90 days per year in a home when the operator is not present, also known as vacation rentals. This means an operator could rent out their primary home for up to 90 days per year if they are not present at the time of the rental.
The bill also works to ensure the safety of guests and creates enforcement mechanisms, as well as includes new reporting requirements and additional rules for booking services like Airbnb.