Economic development is a big goal for Evanston aldermen these days, and it turns out that vacation rentals might have a role to play in achieving that goal.

Aldermen have been trying for months to figure out how to respond to demands from residents of a block on Ashland Avenue that a neighbor there be barred from using her home as a vacation rental — so far without success.

In researching the issue we ran across a study conducted by the consulting group HR&A Advisors for the big vacation rental matching service Airbnb.

The study, conducted in Airbnb’s San Franciso home base, claims that over a period of 13 months ending 10 months ago vacation rentals generated through the service added $56 million to the San Francisco economy.

A press release promoting the study was thin on information about how that figure was determined, and we haven’t received a response yet to an email inquiry yesterday seeking more details about it.

San Francisco has about 11 times the population of Evanston, and many would say it’s a much more popular tourist destination. But just adjusting for population, the study could support a theory that Airbnb vacation rentals alone could account for about $5 million a year in additional economic activity here.

How much other players in the space account for was beyond the scope of the study.

To put that $5 million number in some perspective, the evanstArts study last month claimed that all non-profit arts groups in Evanston generate about $20 million in economic activity — something the arts advocates believe justifies more financial support from taxpayers.

Now $20 million is only about 1 percent of Evanston’s total household income, so the impact of vacation rentals on the local economy is not likely to be huge, even adding in the impact of all of Airbnb’s competitors.

But it’s something for aldermen to think about before deciding to outlaw vacation rentals.

Related stories

Aldermen stumped by vacation rentals

Vacation rentals: Ban, license or leave alone?

Vacation rentals to get the workshop treatment

Vacation rental ban: Will it work?

Neighbors howl about vacation rental on Ashland

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Economic development

    The $20 million claim by the arts group is a canard.  The estimates are easily refuted with some simple math.  When people want taxpayer money, they generate reports that justify the taking of taxpayer money.  

    All over the country art related projects have not lived up or come close to the projections provided by the arts groups.  Of course not all, but many.  Also holds true to claims of further economic development directly related to taxpayer subsidized convention centers, sports facilities, casinos, etc.  

    Usually when taxpayer subsidy is required to underwrite projects that will not pay underlying property taxes, be careful.  When subsidy is provided to projects that will generate r.e. taxes plus sales tax, payback is usually guaranteed.   

    The difference here is tax generation from visitors without any taxpayer subsidy and property that is not taken off the rolls.  Maybe small gains but still gains and that qualifies as economic development.

  2. Study?

    Are you seriously suggesting that we should rely on a "study" conducted by a "consulting firm" on behalf of one of its clients for which the study's results were, not surprisingly, favorable?  There are places in Evanston where new hotels could be built if there were a great demand for additional transient housing.  Why we need to legalize transient rentals of single-family homes in residential districts is beyond me.

    1. Study

      Oh, heavens no.

      I'm only suggesting that the city should make best efforts to measure the beneficial economic impact of an activity before it decides to ban it. The corporate-funded study is only one piece of data — just like the advocacy data from the arts groups.

      And of course, there are places for new hotels in Evanston. Like this one — now a vacant lot because the alderman of the ward wants something else built instead.

      — Bill

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