Housing Offers For Papal Visit Range From Bargains To Prayers

By Julia Terruso The Philadelphia Inquirer.

PHILADELPHI

Jackie Smith is offering her home for rent for $15,000 during the week of the Pope visits Philadelphia in September. She envisions her guests will be a few out-of-state families who opt to share the postwar bungalow an hour's drive from the city.

If Smith, a single mother, has her way, she hopes to use the money to go on a cruise with her mother and daughter, all still coping with the death of her 16-year-old son three years ago.

"It'd be nice, just us three girls, to get away," she said. "And if this can cover it, that would be even better."

At the price Smith's charging, which even she dubbed "ungodly", "dinner will be waiting for you when you arrive and breakfast in the morning and the fridge will be fully stocked," she said.

Smith's three-bedroom house is among hundreds of properties already up for rent in the week of Pope Francis' visit.

In Atlantic City, N.J., Sandy Costanzo is offering for $2,500 her Victorian-style home with ocean views.

Other property owners will open their homes free in an effort to ease the financial burden on travelers expected from all over the world.

About 300 people have officially signed up to host guests the week of the papal visit, Sept. 22-27, at little or no cost through the World Meeting of Families, organizers say. More than 500 others put up their homes or spare rooms on independent sites such as Airbnb and Craigslist, some at steep prices.

"However many beds we have now, we need thousands and thousands more," said Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families, billed as the largest global gathering of Catholic families, held every three years. The 2015 conference will be the first held in the United States, after seven events in Italy, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines.

"We're in the beginning of our push to get the word out through parishes, schools, other ministries. We've reached out to Delaware and New Jersey. I recruited a family standing in line at (the grocery story) the other night," Farrell said.

The visit is expected to be Pope Francis' first to the United States and the first papal journey to Philadelphia since John Paul II was here in 1979. Organizers anticipate 1 million attendees at a Sept. 26 music and prayer celebration and 1.5 million for the pope's Sunday Mass.

Homestay.com, an online rental company, is working with World Meeting of Families organizers to help travelers and homeowners connect.

The World Meeting of Families suggests charging no more than $30 to $50 per night, though the ultimate price is up to the host.

On other sites, offers range from $5,000 for a three-bedroom house in the suburbs for the week to $11,000 in the city itself for up to 10 days.

Drew Allison, 26, wants to rent his one-bedroom apartment in the city for $10,000 for the week. "I heard other people talking in my building and they said they were doing it, so I thought, 'I might as well put this up on Craigslist as early as possible.' "

Allison, who works in commercial real estate, hopes to use the money to go golfing in Pebble Beach, Calif., that weekend. He isn't sure what his building's policy is on short-term leasing, but many high-rises don't allow sublets.

The Philadelphian, a condo building close to where the Pope will give his Sunday Mass, doesn't permit leases shorter than one year.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm a realist, people will be trying to find ways, but we have a no-short-term-rentals-allowed rule," said Frank Bonom, building manager.

Nearby Park Towne Place Apartments also doesn't allow short-term leasing _ though there's no rule against viewing parties, a manager noted.

In Philadelphia, property owners interested in renting a room or house are required to obtain a housing inspection license from the Department of Licenses and Inspections. The rule mostly pertains to people who are renting space consistently and "generally would not apply to homeowners that provide temporary rooming to a family member, guest, or visitor in their home," said L&I Deputy Commissioner Ralph DiPietro. "This is especially true for one-time events."

Renee Bowen is temporarily kicking her 12-year-old daughter out of her room in their suburban home so the family can offer it to an interested couple.

Bowen's home is about a five-minute car ride from the train to Center City, Philly's central district, but she said she'd drive her guests there, that would be part of a shared cultural experience. She's offering the room free of charge through Homestay.com, although Homestay charges a fee of about $5 per night for matching services.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. There's no way I'm taking money," Bowen said. "I can appreciate if someone has a fabulous condo in Center City, they can make big money. I have a little bedroom in a house in Wayne. I don't want to oversell anything."

The World Meeting of Families is also working to secure as many hotel rooms as possible. Farrell estimated there are 64,000 rooms within a 120-mile radius of Philadelphia.

Milan, Italy, the most recent city to host the World Meeting of Families, which Pope Benedict XVI attended, provided 50,000 beds between home stays and hotels, Farrell said. Only 2,000 went to people actually attending the weeklong conference. The majority were for the thousands coming in for the papal Mass.

In Milan, some people opted to set up tents on public streets rather than find lodging.

The visit will cost the World Meeting of Families an estimated $45 million and will require 7,000 to 10,000 volunteers. Those interested in hosting or volunteering can sign up at WorldMeeting2015.org.

One visitor guaranteed a bed is Pope Francis, though his Philadelphia accommodations remain a mystery. "Traditionally, the pope stays at the home of the host archbishop," said Megan Kane, spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families.

If that holds, he'll be packing a bag for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary on City Avenue.

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