Emanuel denies ‘picking on’ home-sharing industry with second straight tax

SHARE Emanuel denies ‘picking on’ home-sharing industry with second straight tax

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday defended his proposed tax hike on Airbnb and other home-sharing services. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday defended his decision to tax Chicago’s burgeoning home-sharing industry yet again — this time, to bankroll a 50 percent increase in shelter capacity and support services for domestic violence victims.

“I totally reject the notion that, somehow, we’re picking on the home-sharing industry. Airbnb is one of the companies that’s best known,” the mayor said at the WINGS domestic violence shelter in Chicago Lawn, which was built with $500,000 in city land and $1.8 million in disputed back taxes and legal fees paid by a Chicago strip club.

“In fact, what we’re doing is investing in the people of Chicago and victims of domestic violence. … We’re not picking on anybody. We’re actually picking on a problem — and it’s gonna solve it. That’s how I look at it.”

Emanuel noted that the first time he targeted home-sharing — with a 4 percent tax earmarked for homeless services — the home-sharing industry warned that the tax would kill the golden goose that is Chicago’s tourism industry.

It didn’t happen. Chicago drew a record 55 million visitors last year and is on pace to grow that number by 10 percent this year, the mayor said.

“Last year [was the] third year in a row for record growth and we’re on track for a fourth year in a row,” the mayor said.

Airbnb has pushed back — somewhat gingerly — by noting that the city’s 4 percent surcharge to bolster homeless services was not being applied equally.

Airbnb spokesman Benjamin Breit has noted that the home-sharing giant has been “collecting a 21.4 percent occupancy tax” that includes the 4 percent fee and had been alone in doing so.

Although Airbnb supports “the mayor’s desire to aid victims of domestic abuse,” the company argued that Chicagoans would be “best served if the city ensured every short-term rental platform, not just Airbnb, collected Chicago’s taxes and fees, including this one.”

Emanuel stood his ground. His administration later produced a list of roughly 40 companies and individuals that are paying the tax. The list includes Trip Advisor, but not Home Away, which signed an agreement with the city last week.

“I could argue, given who uses Airbnb, we’re actually gonna increase traffic because people are gonna see a city that’s progressive, thinking different, thinking anew and they want to invest in that city,” the mayor said.

“We have a lot to offer. And one of the things we have to offer is a big heart.”

The mayor also teed off on one of his favorite political foils — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — for reversing an immigration appeals court ruling that granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman who claimed she was a victim of domestic violence.

The precedent-setting ruling could make it virtually impossible for domestic violence victims — and victims of gang violence — to gain entry into the United States.

“I’m thinking of providing a one-way ticket on Amtrak so he can go visit Ellis Island,” the mayor said of Sessions, with whom he has done battle over the Trump administration’s threat to cut off federal funding to sanctuary cities.

“Ellis Island was where America stood up in the world and said, ‘We will never turn our back. Give us your poor. Give us your hungry.’ … America has always been a beacon. And you’re actually turning your back on what America’s ideas are.”

Emanuel said America is “not a physical space. It’s a set of ideas and values.”

That makes Sessions’ decision to turn his back on victims of domestic violence “abhorrent and antithetical to everything we stand [for] as a country.”

“I know it’s far away from Alabama, but it’s not that far away from Washington D.C.,” Emanuel said. “I think you [Sessions] would do yourself a world of good to go to Ellis Island.”

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