To be sure, short-term housing rentals (STRs) are an issue; proponents on both sides debate and argue, with logic and intelligence, for and against. And there are those who complain: “I have more important things to think about—leave me in peace.”
STR is a way for people to make a little extra money while providing a service to visitors that want an opportunity to experience our city the way that a local does.
Or… STR is a business that takes rental space out of commerce while paying no taxes on the income that is made and essentially depriving legitimate hospitality businesses (hotels, inns, etc.) from making an honest living.
Or… During special events, hotels and B&Bs charge exorbitant amounts of money, do not offer home-like amenities and generally are not as personable as a resident providing the same if not better living conditions for less money.
But: there are people who rent housing, buy property or own spaces that cater only to STR visitors who take away the flavor of our city by turning neighborhoods into stretches of STRs.
And… then there’s the “I don’t give a flip about your local politics and concerns, me and my buddies (bachelorette group, family reunion, romantic getaway) just want to kick back, relax and have a good time. Should I care about legal or illegal? The guy’s renting the space, we want space, resolve your differences and stop making me the bad guy! I’m paying good money to be here. Deal with it!”
Truth be told, all of this centers, rightly (or wrongly), around an organization named Airbnb. Truth be told again: there are at least a dozen other companies and communications that foster STRs (20,000+ reservations over Jazz Fest). Is it good for the economy? Yes and no. Visitors that experience “life as a local” still spend money, and on a “shop small” level they help independent businesspeople. They go to local restaurants and grocery stores, they frequent off-the-beaten-path clubs and watering holes, they hang in our parks and on our porches. In short, they get the low down on the slowdown of our way of life from locals and avoid “tourist traps”. However, our service industry (28,000+) suffers when the “captive audience” isn’t spending money on parking, room service, cookie cutter eating places and attractions aimed at the “once in a blue moon” visitor.
To be fair, the average STR guest doesn’t want to be held captive as a tourist; they want to have a holiday and immerse themselves in our culture, music, food, and funk. Period. On the other hand, landlords who take housing out of commerce— creating timeshares, evicting tenants— have multiple houses set up as STRs. Locals who rent multiple spaces and “flip” them for (untaxed) income are, in fact, giving STRs a bad name and some even opine that they are the scum of the earth. (And yes, there are these people living amongst us.)
Consider that there are over 7,000 pieces of living places or living spaces available to the short-term renter, 72% of which are entire residences (houses, apartments) as of this writing. The majority of people renting those spaces do not live in them and in some cases don’t even live in this city.
The result is that, as those spaces are taken out of commerce, other available spaces become more expensive to rent and harder to find—STRs have become a business that pushes people out of their homes and creates streets of strangers instead of neighbors. Fact is, at any given time, someone from somewhere else can rent a couch to a castle in New Orleans on a short-term basis, while you and your constituents are finding it harder and harder to find places to live in or that you could afford to move into here. It’s also a fact that in many cases, existing rents are being raised out of the reach of long-time residents to keep up with supply and demand.
The original idea of Airbnb was to rent a space in your house to a person or persons that wanted to be your friend and guest. We’ve lost that to greed and that is not good.
I’m not sure how to opinionate on this complex subject and certainly no one is asking for my opinion and/or possible options and alternatives. However, when we have an equation that has homelessness on one side and a housing shortage on the other, a thinking and caring person’s logic would question ignoring the possibility of a relevance of that correlation to STRs.
Meanwhile, while neighbors differ with other neighbors, attitudes escalate, and visitors start feeling alienated, our city officials appear complacent and nothing gets resolved. Ask opinions on the street and the word is that, in fact, the mayor himself wants the proliferation of STRs. Personally, I don’t know. Emails to Airbnb have gone unanswered; City Hall doesn’t answer either. The best that I can tell you is to be aware that this is a real issue and concern to be examined and acted upon. One that is not about to go away.
Top photo from New York Times. All other photos by Kathy Bradshaw.