From the steps of City Hall, the Treme Brass Band provided the soundtrack for a funeral march following the deaths of "affordable neighborhoods" and "actual neighbors," casualties of the proliferation of short-term rentals in New Orleans. At least that's the future to come, according to several neighborhood groups, if whole-home rentals through companies like Airbnb are allowed to operate in New Orleans.
Staging a political theater protest and march Sept. 27, artists and neighborhood groups (including Neighbors First for Bywater, the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association and Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association) carried two caskets, placards illustrating short-term rental listings, and signs representing each New Orleans neighborhood saying "no" to whole-home rentals. The march turned into a dirge as the band played "A Closer Walk with Thee" before disbanding at City Hall, where caricatures of New Orleans City Councilmembers lay on the steps.
In August, the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) agreed to prohibit
short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, but commercially zoned areas don't fall under the same restrictions. The City Council will have final say on new short-term rental rules when it votes on the CPC's recommendations on Oct. 6,
Devin DeWulf, a New Orleans artist and board member of Neighbors First for Bywater, said the protest urged the City Council to ban whole-home rentals in residential and to restrict the types of rentals in commercially zoned areas.
"The vast majority of people in our neighborhood are really worried about whole-home rentals," DeWulf told Gambit.
"At the same time, the vast majority had no problem with someone ... who rents our part of their home. And that's fine. She's there, she's responsible, she's not going to allow a frat party at her house every weekend. There's definitely houses in Bywater and Marigny and other neighborhoods where nobody's watching them or keeping track of what type of tourist guests are there. ... It's really important to know your neighbors — you look out for them, they look out for you. We're losing that social fabric."
The fear of losing neighbors and entire neighborhoods to tourists and nonresidents adds to residents' growing fears of a housing bubble and the climbing costs of housing.
"We're pricing ourselves out of our own city," DeWulf said.
Troy Glover, president of Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association, pressed people who own rental properties to consider what they're doing to "advance affordable housing for people who need it the most."
"Whole-house rentals take away the things that make New Orleans New Orleans," he said. "When you remove the people in the neighborhoods full of culture, love and history, you remove what makes New Orleans great. We all love this city, and there are many people who have moved to this city. But New Orleans isn't New York, New Orleans isn't L.A., New Orleans isn't D.C. ... New Orleans is New Orleans because of the musicians. New Orleans is New Orleans because of the artists. And if we continue to push people out, we'll lose that."
Leah Bailey — a server at Harrah's who has worked in the city's service industry for 10 years — called on the City Council and Mayor Mitch Landrieu to embrace the CPC's recommendations against whole-home rentals. "We want to keep the service industry workers in this city — we don't them moving out to Kenner or Metairie and Slidell," she said. "We're what makes this city distinctive. We're the ones who make the gumbo, make the beds, and we deserve to live in this city."
Neighbors First for Bywater holds a neighborhood parade to oppose whole-home rentals beginning at Markey Park at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2. The City Council is expected to vote on short-term rental rules at its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 6.