Friday, August 7, 2015

Short-term rental committee hosts contentious public meeting on enforcement, action

Posted By on Fri, Aug 7, 2015 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge The crowd outside the New Orleans Short-Term Rental Committee meeting on Aug. 6. - KEVIN ALLMAN
  • The crowd outside the New Orleans Short-Term Rental Committee meeting on Aug. 6.

It was made immediately clear that a meeting to discuss the future of short-term rentals in New Orleans wasn’t going to hear from both sides of the debate. In a meeting room inside the New Orleans Council on Aging office on Canal Street on Aug. 6, the New Orleans Short-Term Rental Committee held a public meeting to publicly unveil its mission and drum up support. At the top of the meeting, French Quarter resident Rob White clarified it wasn’t going to be a debate, nor would it be a discussion. At that point, several people left the room. One person yelled, “Bullshit.”

The room nearly overflowed as committee members and security turned people away, many of them members of the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP), which has lobbied to support New Orleans residents using short-term rental services like Airbnb and VRBO. White was the only speaker over the next 45 minutes — he railed against absentee owners and how neighborhoods are dissolving under short-term rental creep, and how enforcement on the issue has been a total failure on the city’s part.

The group — composed of “neighbors for neighborhoods” with its message to “Get it right, New Orleans” — demands the city take a more strict approach to enforcing laws against “illegally” operating rentals, particularly those advertised on services like Airbnb and VRBO. Among its goals of “getting it right” are avoiding “half-baked” attempts at regulation in cities like Portland, Oregon, which White called a failure as only a fraction of rental listings complied. “New Orleans should not be the next lemming to jump off the cliff,” White said.

White said that to “get it right,” the city needs to create and use effective enforcement measures to address what’s already on the books, including current bed and breakfast ordinances. “Enforcement is broken,” White said. The committee also wants to tackle home affordability and availability (if a building “can house a permanent resident, it should house a permanent resident,” White said) as well as “rogue hotels” with absentee landlords who own and rent a property, sometimes with several units in a building, as short-term rentals, despite not living there themselves. White said absentee owners aren’t participating in a sharing economy, they’re “colonizing.”

“Absentee owners are not sharing the neighborhood, they’re sharing me,” he said. “We victims are powerless.”

The committee is not a city-sanctioned group but is a volunteer-run group made up of members of neighborhood groups like Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates (VCPORA) as well as bed-and-breakfast operators. Its co-chairs are Brian Furness and Jay Seastrunk.

Freddie King, constituent services director for New Orleans District C Councilmember Nadine Ramsey, attended the meeting. He told Gambit that Ramsey is looking at the short-term rentals issue within her district, which encompasses rental-heavy French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater.

Committee member Meg Lousteau (also the director of VCPORA) said the committee has yet to decide whether to hold another round of public meetings.

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