Land Use

Whole-home short-term rentals: quick cash, long-term damage to the city

Matt Davis could profit — but at the expense of his neighborhood.

Matt Davis could profit — but at the expense of his neighborhood.

New Orleanians old and new, renters and homeowners: we face yet another threat to our way of life. How we react to it will shape our legacy as custodians of the one-of-a-kind city we are proud to call home. We must call on the city and on property owners to put an end to full-home short-term rentals on Airbnb and similar services.

Renting out a room now and then is one thing, but emptying out whole houses so they can be turned into mini-hotels for transients is a very different — and very destructive — proposition.

I am a property owner in New Orleans. My primary residence is a single shotgun close to Bayou St. John, and I own a four-unit apartment building in the Upper Ninth Ward close to St. Claude Avenue. When I moved out of town this year for graduate school, many people advised me to turn at least some of my units into short-term rentals. The numbers were convincing at first; my properties are in areas highly desirable to tourists. On Airbnb, I could make far more money than I do from monthly rents.

After some soul searching, I couldn’t do it. I maintained my long-term leases in the Upper Ninth Ward and found tenants for my house in Mid-City. I love both my neighborhoods in large part because I have real relationships with the people who surround me. My neighbors and I swap plants and fruits from our gardens, share drinks on the porch, know each other’s families, and keep an eye out for each other.

If I turned my properties into hotels, that sense of community would be lost. If my neighbors were pushed out by their landlords and replaced by a new set of visitors each week, I would feel dislocated in my own home. I decided I owed it to myself and my neighbors to rent to full-time residents who can keep this connection alive, even while I am away.

This was my conclusion; other property owners – especially those with many units – may feel differently. Certainly the cash flow from short-term rents is appealing. But the transformation of many housing units into hotels will limit availability for residents and shred the fabric of our neighborhoods, the very thing that distinguishes New Orleans and makes it so beloved by old-timers and newcomers alike, as well as by tourists.

We are already seeing sky-high rents and the eviction of long-term tenants so that their homes can be turned into hotels. I think the city’s residents and leaders should take a stand for our social tout ensemble and oppose full-home short-term rentals.

On Tuesday, June 14, the City Planning Commission will hold a hearing to consider an ordinance supporting whole-home short-term rentals. Residents who don’t want to see homes turned into hotels should try to attend the hearing and speak out against the proposal.

I love when people come to New Orleans. Visitors are part of the lifeblood of the city, economically and even culturally. My parents moved to New Orleans after falling in love with the vibe and music as visitors to Jazz Fest. I support a strong tourism industry. But not at the risk of pushing out the people who make this city such a warm, neighborly, close-knit place to live. And not at the risk of harming the people who depend on traditional hospitality businesses for their livelihood.

Visitors who want to know our city “like they live here” should stay at one of our many hotels and walk through our neighborhoods, say hello to the people they see, and strike up a conversation. With a smile and a little respect, tourists can easily make friends with locals. They don’t need to sleep in locals’ former homes to do so.

Renting a room or a part of your home to visitors doesn’t diminish density and hollow out a neighborhood in the way that whole-house rentals do. By all means, let’s pile in. Density makes interesting neighborhoods more exciting. But whole-home rentals are a step too far. They push prices up and push people out. The city needs to strengthen and enforce its laws against whole-home short-term rentals.

If landlords in New Orleans want to see property values rise, let’s work to make it happen the neighborly way: through good upkeep, better schools, repaired infrastructure, lower crime, more and better-paying jobs. We can make it happen while keeping our neighborhoods strong, diverse, and – above all – inhabited. Future generations of New Orleanians will thank us for it.

Matt Davis was born in New Jersey and had the good fortune to grow up in New Orleans. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the University of Pennsylvania, he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at IE Business School, in Madrid, Spain. During the last seven years, he lived in Mid-City, worked as an executive in the furniture manufacturing industry, served on the board of Forum for Equality, and paraded with Krewe du Vieux’s Krewe of Mama Roux.

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