Parents, community leaders, and government officials have a duty to protect the youngest and most innocent among us – our children. And in a large city like Washington, D.C., this is even more important.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18. The United States Justice Department reports that “persons under 18 years of age account for 67 percent of all sexual assault victimizations reported to law enforcement agencies.”
This is unacceptable and heart-breaking.
It is not surprising that every parent faces multiple challenges in raising their family. What may be surprising, however, is the latest challenge: the influx of Airbnb short-term rentals in neighborhoods. With a revolving door of strangers coming and going from short-term rentals properties, tools like sex offender lists are becoming obsolete as there is no safeguard in place to stop a child predator from renting an Airbnb property next door.
The growth of these short-term rentals, stemming from the influx of commercial interests buying up residential units to rent on sites like Airbnb, has become a significant concern among law enforcement agencies across the country.
According to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article last fall, an Airbnb guest staying at a rental in Minnetonka, Minnesota, was charged with an attempted sexual assault of a seven-year-old living in the house the family rented. Over the last year, there have been numerous stories in cities across the country of Airbnb rentals being used for prostitution, drug trafficking, gang activity, and out-of-control parties, which have led to violence and shootings in residential neighborhoods.
Because of these negative impacts, many cities across the country have enacted short-term regulations to protect city residents, children, and the community fabric that make up city neighborhoods. So far, the D.C. City Council has been slow to act.
Fortunately, D.C. lawmakers are considering the Short-Term Rental and Affordable Housing Act, a piece of legislation that could have an enormous impact on protecting our children and neighborhoods across the city. Unfortunately, lawmakers are dragging their feet on passing the bill which was introduced last January. This raises the question, why is it taking so long for our city leaders to act to protect our children and communities?
Individuals and families should absolutely have the ability to rent out their single units or homes, allowing true home sharing to occur. But this process is being taken advantage of by commercial interests who are not necessarily vested in the community.
These commercial interests are coming into our neighborhoods and buying up blocks of housing and entire apartment buildings, often in affordable housing areas. They are threatening our communities by creating neighborhoods of complete strangers and transients, and decreasing the affordability and availability of housing and rentals.
Airbnb certainly does not condone such bad behaviors through their site. But they also have not done enough to combat the unacceptable actions of its operators and guests, which have included installing illegal hidden cameras, pornography shoots, marijuana grow rooms, trashed homes, and stolen items, all documented in a recent USA Today article.
The hidden cameras are especially troubling. They were found not only in common spaces, but in the bedrooms and bathrooms of Airbnb units. No one should be recorded without their consent, especially in personal spaces where children may be extremely vulnerable.
The D.C. City Council should stop delaying and pass the Short-Term Rental and Affordable Housing Act, a bill that will protect our precious children from the increasing dangers of illegal hotels operating in our residential neighborhoods.