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Commentary: Every man a king, every homeowner a hotelier 

New Orleans' short-term rental ordinance needs change, not expansion

When the New Orleans City Council came up with a comprehensive policy on short-term rentals (STRs) in 2016, both the council and the STR industry hailed it as a landmark agreement. The new regulations called for Airbnb and similar STR services to share data with the city to expedite licenses (and collect fees), and it put the French Quarter off limits to STRs.

  Those developments were spun as major positives by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and some council members. Landrieu said New Orleans now was "a model for other cities trying to limit, regulate and tax short-term rental platforms." Councilman At Large Jason Williams said, oddly, "Although it may not feel like it, today was a win for those who are completely against whole-home rentals."

  It's now more than a year into the experiment, and it's clear the council plan didn't feel like a win — because it wasn't one.

  Last September, Gambit published a story about an email from the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP), the local STR lobby organi- zation, to its members, in which ANP spelled out its support for an "expan- ded footprint of inclusion and increases in both day count and occupancy permitted." The email said the STR industry wants to lift the current ban on STRs in the French Quarter, increase the number of beds allowed citywide and double the number of nights a property could be used as an STR from 90 to 180 a year.

  Lo and behold, ANP now has proposed changing the current ordinance to include all those expansions. ANP's goals haven't changed. What's about to change is the makeup of the New Orleans City Council.

  Four current council members will be leaving. Among the replacements will be Joe Giarrusso III in District A and Kristin Gisleson Palmer in District C (which includes the French Quarter), both of whom ran in part on opposition to STR expansion. They may take a leaf from returning District D Councilman Jared Brossett, the sole dissenting vote on the original proposal, who wants to tie each STR license to a homestead exemption to prevent absentee landlords from turning residential neighborhoods into de facto hotel districts. Brossett's concern was prescient; absentee landlordism is exactly what has happened.

  Meanwhile, exempting the French Quarter from STRs has, predictably, pushed STRs into surrounding neighborhoods. According to research done by The Lens, one in 10 homes in the Faubourg Marigny now is an STR, and in one block of Treme, 10 of the 16 houses are STRs. Opening up the Quarter to STRs will not take the pressure off surrounding neighborhoods. It likely will produce a gold rush of STR permit requests in the Quarter, which only has 2,635 households, according to the 2010 census. Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Huey Long famously declared "every man a king," but expanding STRs even further could make every homeowner a hotelier.

  The current council has given little indication it intends to take up STRs in the less than three months that remain before the new council takes office. That's good, because our current STR ordinance definitely needs change — but not expansion.

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