As short-term rentals become an ever more prominent part of the elections for the next mayor and City Council of New Orleans, the candidates for the open District B seat mostly agreed Thursday night that abuses of the system remains out of control in the city and sharpened their calls for reforms.
Candidates in numerous campaign events have been asked about their positions on short-term rentals already, but moderators of a forum hosted by the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization pushed harder on the issue Thursday night. With so much research and investigative reporting on the effects of short-term rentals in the city, they asked, what additional information could candidates need in order to know what changes to the policy are needed?
Eugene Ben, an architect, was the first candidate to receive the question and the only one who demurred on the issue. He said he is certain that the New Orleans is becoming less affordable for residents, but said he was not exactly sure what role short-term rentals play in the problem.
“I do need additional data,” Ben said. “I’ve not looked at this question very well, but I’m sure that a lot of people sitting in this room agree with me that this part of the world is getting very unaffordable.”
Former School Board member Seth Bloom said the only people who seem to be “gung ho” in favor of short-term rentals are those making money off them. New Orleans is unlikely to be able to ban them outright, he said, but he would support a more uniform application of the law.
“You can’t cut out the French Quarter, and then not cut out Mid-City or not cut out the Lower Garden,” Bloom said. “My idea is to regulate it. We’re not enforcing it anywhere but in the French Quarter where it’s completely banned, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
Veterinarian Catherine Love said she disagreed with Bloom, and that neighborhoods should have an individual way of determining what kinds of short-term rentals are allowed. Her family’s nanny uses short-term rentals of half of her two-family home to supplement her income, and people in her position should be acknowledged even while cracking down on those abusing the system.
“What we hate are the ones who take advantage of it, the ones who live out of state and come in and buy a block of properties, destroying the integrity of our neighborhoods, and just make a profit off of us and then don’t even spend the revenues here,” Love said. “They spend them in Ohio or Chicago.”
Civic activist Timothy David Ray said he was personally aware of whole city blocks in the Treme that have only one or two full-time residents left, and he has come to the conclusion that whole-home rentals should be mostly banned, except for possibly in some cases where the house’s owner can present a homestead exemption.
“The consensus is pretty clear that short-term rentals have pretty devastatingly impacted the quality, the integrity, the fabric and the culture of New Orleans neighborhoods,” Ray said.
Irish Channel block captain “Action” Andre Strumer had already declared earlier in the evening that he wanted AirBnB “out” of the city because of its impact on affordability. Only the simplest cases where people are renting out part of their own homes should be allowed.
“I think short-term rentals need to be much more strictly enforced and looked at again, because it doesn’t benefit the people of the community,” Strumer said.
Community activist Jay H. Banks took a similarly strict position: short-term rentals should only be allowed for individual homeowners, with the permit tied to a homestead exemption on their property.
“If Ms. Jones needs to rent out a room to make her ends meet, I’m OK with that. I am vehemently opposed to people creating mini hotels throughout the city,” Banks said. “If it’s tied to a homestead exemption, then you know the people who are going to be affected by it have to live there.”
The forum included a number of other questions on housing policy, including a broader discussion of how the City Council can help lift New Orleanians out of generations of poverty. To read about that and see live video, visit MidCityMessenger.com.