By Michelle McQuien
I was born and raised in Athens, spending most of my childhood here, until my father’s job took our family to another city. After a decade away, I was drawn back to Athens for graduate school, a decision that ultimately led me to my husband and a life deeply rooted in this community.
As young homeowners, still establishing our careers—I soon to be a self-employed language specialist and my husband a dedicated member of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department—we knew that the financial feasibility of purchasing our current home hinged upon our ability to host. The only reason we were able to buy a house in Athens was the fact that we could supplement our income by using some of our home to list a short-term rental.
Within a month of moving into our home, we began welcoming guests from all corners of the globe into our basement suite and have now been hosting for more than four years. Operating a short-term rental has not only given us the extra money we needed to pay our mortgage and keep up with daily living expenses, but has enriched our lives immeasurably. It has allowed me to work from home and raise our children — all while getting to meet incredible people from around the world and foster new friendships.
A few months ago, Athens-Clarke County enacted a temporary moratorium on all new short-term rentals in single-family zoning districts — even for people looking to share their primary residence like we do. The county is now considering longer-term regulations that may prevent Athens families from sharing their homes in residential neighborhoods. Not only would this be unfair to homeowners, who have a right to use their hard-earned property as they wish, but it would also be a loss for the greater Athens community. It's vital that these future laws be shaped by a balanced perspective that honors the voices of residents, ensuring that responsible homeowners like us can continue to contribute to our neighborhoods.
Contrary to what some of the negative news stories would have you believe, the overwhelming majority of guests in Athens are not rambunctious partiers, but parents visiting their children at the University of Georgia, or families visiting relatives in the area. During our four years of hosting, we haven’t had even a single noise complaint. In fact, many of our guests are regulars who we often invite into our home for dinner.
Every year, we host a grandmother from Italy who comes to see her son who lives in the neighborhood next to ours. We’ve welcomed a young man from Hawaii who was finishing a physical therapy residency, a doctoral student from Romania, and a couple from Canada who come regularly to visit family. No matter where they’re coming from, we do our best to give each of our guests a piece of home.
Our guests have always respected our community and strengthened Athens' neighborhoods. They help people like my husband and me continue to afford to live in Athens, while bringing valuable revenue to the county. Our guests spend money at local coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores that are within a mile of our home, supporting our local economy and ensuring that small businesses can thrive throughout the county.
I am fully supportive of the county cracking down on the few and far between bad apples who give all short-term rentals in Athens a bad name — and encourage the county to work closely with law enforcement to report parties and to take action against the owners accordingly. However, undue restrictions on short-term rentals in residential areas are not the solution, and pose a significant threat to the financial stability of local families. I believe, and hope, that Athens-Clarke County will recognize the value of what Hosts like me bring to the table — not just economically, but also in terms of cultural richness and community that are just as vital.
If Athens-Clarke County were to pass legislation preventing residents from earning critical income by sharing their home, families like mine would be forced to move out of the county altogether. Guests also would have to find accommodations farther away, sending their spending and tax dollars to neighboring counties instead of to Athens.
My husband and I love sharing our home with guests, and I implore Athens-Clarke County’s leadership to protect that right, not just for my family, but for families in allneighborhoods in Athens.
The Classic City already has a reputation for welcoming people from all over the world; let’s not lose that. May we continue to show warm hospitality to those visiting our town, bolster our local economy, and encourage culturally vibrant neighborhoods.
Michelle McQuien is a proud Athens resident and passionate short-term rental Host.