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Dorothy Howell: “We’ve just been really blessed with great people coming in.” Photo by Karen Gavis

Dallas received an A-. Fort Worth? A big fat F.

This is according to Roomscore 2016, a short-term rental policy study conducted by rstreet.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy think tank. Fort Worth was doomed mostly by its strict regulations and burdensome paperwork. Dallas isn’t nearly as heavily regulated, hence the high score.

Arlington, for its part, is still trying to figure out this whole short-term rental craze inspired by Airbnb, a $25 billion company operating in 161 countries and 165,000 cities. The community-driven marketplace is being hailed as the eBay of accommodations.

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Not too long ago, the City of Arlington brought in an outside company to analyze short-term rental data and conducted an online survey to gather input from Arlingtonians. The city also held a series of meetings in which leaders availed themselves to questions and comments from some rather mixed crowds.

Firmly on the pro-Airbnb side were Dorothy and Larry Howell, a retired couple in their mid-70s who own a historical home near downtown Arlington where they’ve lived for nearly 40 years.

The house was built in 1908 by J.W. Ditto, who “autographed a gable,” Larry told me when I dropped by to visit recently.

Dorothy later lifted a framed article by the Arlington Citizen Journal that detailed how the Howells had restored the place.

“Our blood, sweat, and tears are in this home,” she said.

Past the main house’s grand wraparound porch is a guest cottage that the Howells built in the 1990s when Larry’s mother, who had Alzheimer’s, came to live with them.

“We brought her here from West Texas,” Dorothy said. “She lived there for five years.”

After she died, the Howells rented the guesthouse to several folks, but that didn’t work out, Dorothy said. The Howells were contemplating their next move when their granddaughter-in-law suggested Airbnb. The young woman was using the company to rent a room in her house in Fort Worth.

“And I mean,” Dorothy said, “she was in here on the computer, and – boom, boom, boom – we were Airbnb.”

That was in November, and even though the Howells didn’t know much about Airbnb, they soon welcomed their first guests.

“It was some young adults,” Dorothy said. “They even gave us a little thank you card. And they all signed it.”

Things slowed down in January, she said. Then she received a call from someone wanting to rent the guesthouse for several months.

“We’ve just been really blessed with great people coming in,” Dorothy said. “All different kinds of people coming for different reasons and not just for sports.”

The Howells normally rent the place for $95 a night and $125 on weekends, with a two-night minimum and a $50 cleaning fee.

Even though Dorothy has been recovering from triple bypass heart surgery, she said it’s been fun decorating the place and meeting so many new people. She said Airbnb takes care of all the advertising,  which makes things easy. But she is concerned that the city might step in and try to over-regulate things.

“I understand that they are concerned about these big, wild parties in these neighborhoods,” she said. “I understand there are problems. But I understand from our standpoint this is an income for us, and we’re retired.

“I just don’t want the city to be over-anxious about more money in the coffers and take into consideration some of the people that are doing what we are doing,” she continued. “It’s not a business per se, but it is an extra income.”

Seniors are the fastest-growing host demographic, and senior women consistently are the best-rated hosts on Airbnb, according to the company’s website. The typical host who’s 65 or older can earn an extra $8,350 per year, the company says.

On the other side of the Airbnb equation, though, are folks who complain that too many people always results in too many vehicles clogging the streets.

Dorothy said she hopes the City of Arlington will distinguish between someone renting a room of his or her home and somebody who lives in California or some other far-flung locale and owns six short-term rental properties in Arlington. She doesn’t want to be weighed down with fees and rules.

Though Fort Worth’s short-term rental market is heavily regulated, the city has more than 500 active Airbnb rentals that average about $120 per night. A Fort Worth host can expect a 64-percent occupancy rate for a monthly revenue stream of more than $1,500.

When the Howells called the city last year, Larry said he was told there really were no rules on short-term rentals in Arlington, Dorothy said, “and then – boom – all of a sudden, they’re talking rules.

“There probably should be some regulations,” she continued. “But in our backyard, not a lot is going to happen.

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