Tuesday, August 9, 2016

New Orleans City Planning Commission votes to ban whole home short-term rentals

Posted By on Tue, Aug 9, 2016 at 10:15 PM

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Whole home rentals in residential neighborhoods are off the table in the short-term rental debate — for now — following the New Orleans City Planning Commission's (CPC) vote unanimously agreeing they should remain illegal. Following months of debate and years of discussion, the CPC approved a framework for short-term rental listings like Airbnb on Aug. 9. The recommendations from the CPC's staff now head to the New Orleans City Council, which could change up the new rules before a final vote — those recommendations are just that.

Following five hours of public comment and an hour of discussion among commissioners, the CPC approved its staff recommendations for three types of short-term rentals and voted to ban the controversial practice of renting out entire homes in residential areas. The CPC rejected those types of rentals earlier this year, but they were put back in play by Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration.

Several New Orleans City Council members have been critical of whole home rentals — District A Councilmember Susan Guidry told Gambit last month they pose "the biggest threat to the quality of life of our long-term residents." Councilmembers Jared Brossett and Stacy Head also expressed concerns about homes used as short-term rentals year-round in residential neighborhoods.

For this vote, commissioners unanimously voted against them, largely because of the many hours of public comments over the last several months. The CPC voted 8-1 to send the recommendations to the City Council — Nolan Marshall III was the sole vote against it and the most critical of short-term rental companies and renters in New Orleans.

"I don’t believe in a short 10 years after a disaster we can ‘disrupt’ our housing industry," Marshall said, adding that companies and renters were bragging about exploiting an illegal industry and "profiteering" from "an illegal business model" — one that turns residential areas and their residents into tourist attractions. "I don’t think I should be an attraction," he said. "I don't believe in it and I can't support it."

Short-term rentals have been on the city's radar for years with little enforcement of the laws already on the books, while listings through companies like Airbnb have increased throughout the city, particularly whole home rentals — currently the largest subset of short-term rentals, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the more than 5,000 listings in New Orleans.

New Orleans also isn't the first to tackle short-term rentals. Several cities around the U.S. and in Europe are revisiting their laws and making them more strict following affordability issues and other concerns.

Proponents argued that those thousands of whole home listings could rake in millions of dollars in permits and fees for the city. Short-term rental advocacy group Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP) has pressed the city to keep whole home rentals in play. "You want us to make lemonade out of lemons," Marshall told ANP's Eric Bay and attorney Bob Ellis, "but it’s you giving us the lemons."

With "principal" rentals off the plate, the remaining types of rentals include "accessory" or owner-occupied homes renting out spare rooms; "temporary" homes rented for no more than 30 days a year; and "commercial" vacation homes in commercially zoned corridors. Those "commercial" rentals, including whole swaths of the CBD and French Quarter, are not subject to density restrictions.

Marshall questioned the CPC staff as to why it relied on "demand" for rooms in the historic core and tourism-heavy areas for its recommendations — while that demand was for something that's currently illegal.

Commissioners also questioned why the city can't include a provision to require short-term rental listing companies to share their raw data — something other cities have failed to do. Commission Director Robert Rivers said the city would end up fighting them in court for years. Vieux Carre Property Owners and Associates (VCPORA) Director Meg Lousteau said the city should do it anyway and "send a message" that New Orleans is taking their presence, and enforcement, seriously. Rivers said the CPC could include language requiring that data, but that it could delay the laws going into effect. (Several people in the crowd said, "So what?")

Residents echoed concerns from previous meetings — short-term rentals' role in affordable housing through displacement and conversion, the erasure of neighborhood and cultural identity and the irony of people visiting "real" New Orleans while residents are forced out. Several residents also voiced concerns with representation at the polls — voters living in neighborhoods with fewer residents and more visitors, handing over control to other neighborhoods in their district.

Comedian and actor Harry Shearer was among the opponents speaking against short-term rentals, calling its proponents and rental owners speaking in the first half of the meeting "a parade of happy scofflaws."

"What other business can I start in the privacy of my home?" he joked. "A large animal veterinary practice? ... Are all residential neighborhoods commercial strips waiting to be disrupted?"

Commissioner Kyle Wedberg said his Bywater neighborhood has seen several homes convert to Airbnbs. "Something is happening," he said.

Residents on both sides, as well as the commissioners, agreed enforcement — what Janet Howard called the "mythical creature called enforcement in New Orleans" — will be key. Commissioner Royce Duplessis wasn't optimistic.

"I have no reason whatsoever to believe anything is going to be different," Duplessis said. "I hope some real enforcement is done, because without that we’re spending a lot of time and emotion with something that’s going to go forward, regardless."

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