The return of an in-person football season brought concern about COVID-19 safety protocols, joy at being back in Michigan Stadium and a massive influx of visitors to Ann Arbor that has been absent since 2019. This year, every fall Saturday with a home game can count on thousands of fans making the journey to participate in game-day festivities.
Since Ann Arbor has notoriously poor parking availability, many landlords take unconventional measures to ensure visitors have a place to park their cars. For many students and residents, especially those living near the stadium, renting out parking spaces is often a popular choice.
Irfan Bhabhrawala, a long-time Ann Arbor resident, has been renting his driveway and lawn for football-related activities over the last 20 years. Whether for corporate gatherings, small groups or just parking, Irfan hosts a variety of guests who all benefit from his close proximity to the stadium.
In an interview with The Daily, Bhabhrawala emphasized how nice it is to have football season back. Though he did not rent out his parking space at all in the previous season, this year has been business as usual, with one small exception.
“This year, there hasn’t been much demand for big events just because I think people were scared,” Bhabhrawala said. “A lot of those people plan and book way in advance, but some of the big events people were afraid to commit to not knowing how the pandemic would be.”
Irfan is not the only one who sells parking for game days. LSA junior Agnes Dunne is required by her apartment’s lease to vacate her parking spaces on game days so her landlord can sell those spots to visitors.
Dunne told The Daily she has to move her car to the street on Friday night before the game if she wants to be able to secure a spot. Though generally speaking, this isn’t too much of an inconvenience to her and her roommates, there can be downsides — including restricted driving availability.
“It’s a little hard because we can’t do anything on game day,” Dunne said.“If I wanted to go out and pick up food or even if one of us has to work on game day, you’re probably not going to find a parking spot near our house again because it’s so close to the stadium.”
For visitors looking to stay overnight, short term rentals like Airbnb vary in their location and quality.
The real estate development company Prentice 4M was founded 10 years ago to provide short term rentals in Ann Arbor. According to Prentice 4M founder Heidi Poscher, the company wanted to diversify its portfolio and found that short term rentals were the best way to do so. Prentice 4M currently owns several properties solely for Airbnb rental, and Poscher said Prentice 4M enjoys supporting football fans.
“Most of our units are located right down there by the stadium so there are all sorts of fun things that we do to make it a special stay for football guests,” Poscher said.
With increased pressure on short term rentals from the city of Ann Arbor, companies say it is becoming difficult for some short term rental owners to see the value in continuing to rent their homes. In September 2020, the Ann Arbor City Council passed an ordinance banning non-owner-occupied, short term rentals from residentially zoned districts to improve housing affordability and accessibility.
At the September 2020 City Council meeting, former councilmember Jane Lumm, D-Ward 2, said the ordinance would help give housing to year-round Ann Arbor residents.
“All we do know is that the number of short term rentals has indeed grown and that every home used for short term rental is one less unit of permanent housing,” Lumm said.
Alex Gross, an independent manager of more than 20 different short term rental properties in Ann Arbor, said the extra income that can be generated from renting makes it worth it for some owners to continue renting.
“I rent a house and we — all four of us — kind of move out for one or two football games a year and just pay the rent that way,” Gross said. “I think it helps with affordability because it gives people the option to help pay their mortgages and rent for football season.”
Though one of the many reasons people may pursue short term rentals is for football games, Poscher said the majority of their guests come to Ann Arbor for other reasons.
“Most of our business is business travelers, people who are coming to Michigan for health care, and we kind of have a growing following of people that are in the tech fields or mobility or startups and have to come to Ann Arbor for a kind of a shorter period of time than a whole year lease,” Poscher said.
Though the pandemic saw a definite decline in the demand for short term rentals, this summer was as busy as normal, according to Gross. As far as the football season is concerned, things also seem to be taking a turn for the better.
“For the big games I think we’ve seen as much traffic as pre-COVID, and for smaller games … It’s almost like two years ago,” Gross said. “The traffic has definitely been there, but I think as a whole, football season is going a bit slower.”
When asked about the short term rental ordinance, Poscher said the regulation of short term rentals shows how the city must balance preserving private development with ensuring the public good.
“The city’s got objectives that they’re trying to fulfill and we should support that,” Poscher said. “We’re meeting consumer demand and they should respect that. I hope that one thing that has come out of all these back and forth discussions is that everyone’s got a better appreciation for the full complement of dynamics that are operating here.”
This consumer demand brought on by football season and Ann Arbor’s various other attractions doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, according to Gross, who also emphasized the value of Airbnbs for the city.
“I think Airbnbs offer a bit more value here than maybe in other places because there aren’t — at least at the moment — a lot of hotels around downtown and campus,” Gross said. “I think if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly place, Airbnb kind of has a place in that market.”
Daily News Contributor Isabella Kassa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.