Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Short-term rental groups push against "burdensome regulations" in New Orleans

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 7:00 PM

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Short-term rental groups are jumping into this summer's debate to dispel fears that short-term rental growth is pushing out New Orleans residents. And with nearly three-quarters of all short-term rentals in the area comprising entire homes, supporters are pushing the city to keep those types of rentals on the table as regulations are drawn up.

At a panel discussion at The Curtis House on Magazine Street June 28, members of HomeAway, the umbrella group for 40 sites including VRBO, argued short-term rentals' economic impact to the city, particularly in residential neighborhoods, with an average of more than three visitors per home spending an average of four nights per visit, along with students on long-term academic trips, people on business, or families on medical-related trips spending as much time as tourists on vacation.

Travel website Expedia bought HomeAway earlier this year — Philip Minardi, Expedia's Director of Policy Communications, said the company is hoping to integrate short-term rentals into its travel options the same way hotels or cabs are offered with flights. Matt Curtis, Senior Director of Global Government Affairs and Public Policy for HomeAway, said "burdensome regulations" — like those potentially proposed by the New Orleans City Planning Commission and New Orleans City Council in August — are likely to drive the industry underground.

Eric Bay — President of short-term rental advocacy group Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP) — emphasized that ANP wants the city to "equalize the playing field" by adding a hotel-motel tax to short-term rentals, along with other markers of "responsible home ownership," from basic safety measures to potential "quiet" hours. Bay says permits and taxes for whole-home listings would put $5 million in the city's coffers — ANP doesn't want "every house on the block" listed as a short-term rental, he said, but too many density restrictions on whole-home rentals would kill hundreds of listings.

In a letter to the City Planning Commission and the City Council, the ANP requests the city refrain from "stiffening" density restrictions, like banning whole-home rentals in residential areas. (Nearly a quarter of all short-term rental listings are Uptown.)

ANP also championed short-term rentals' role in blight reduction. According to ANP, 62 percent of short-term rentals were formerly blighted/neglected. "Dark streets, vacant homes, and blighted property do not contribute to neighborhoods," the letter reads. "Economic activity, minimally invasive foot traffic, lighted streets, and renovations in progress inject much needed life into our neighborhoods." Short-term rentals, however, are mostly Uptown, Mid-City and in already-tourist-heavy downtown areas while the city's blight is largely concentrated in the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East.

The ANP also insists short-term rental proliferation is "not creating an affordable housing problem" and quotes a February statement from the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA) — but this month, the GNOHA issued a new statement, standing firmly and plainly against whole-home rentals following the City Planning staff's report on short-term rentals, which could "act as a factor in exacerbating New Orleans’ housing crisis."

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, which also previously sidelined the short-term rental issue to focus on other crises in the city's housing, also issued a new objection this week and echoed the GNOHA: "Short-term rentals will surely exacerbate the housing affordability crisis that existed prior to their proliferation in the New Orleans area."

The GNOHA, encompassing a range of housing advocacy groups, insists "every unit counts." Though short-term rentals aren't the only contributing factor to the city's affordability crisis, they are "contributing to the overall challenge of rising prices and displacement by taking units off the market that could otherwise be dedicated to housing New Orleanians."

Since the group's February statement, the City Planning Commission and the New Orleans City Council have battled over a City Planning staff report that keeps whole-home rentals on the table for legalization. Neighborhood groups in the Garden District and Uptown had argued against those kinds of rentals but lacked majority support from housing advocacy groups speaking on behalf of lower-income neighborhoods — until now.

The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on zoning changes for short-term rentals Aug. 9.

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