Short-term rental permits are posted on homes that are offered on Airbnb and similar services. Credit: CLAIRE BANGSER FOR HUFFPOST

Short-term rentals are bad for Black neighborhoods in New Orleans

If our City Councilmembers are listening to us—residents of this city and the people who make
the culture—then the upcoming vote on new short-term rental rules should be an easy one.

As the artist Phlegm says, “Everything you love about New Orleans is because of Black people.”

You can’t say you love and appreciate the culture we’re famous for while simultaneously hollowing out the Black neighborhoods responsible for it to serve wealthy tourists who call us “ghetto” and “sketchy.” Just check the Airbnb reviews in Central City or the 7th Ward and you’ll plenty of tourists leaving racially notes for their fellow travelers about our Black neighborhoods.

If our City Councilmembers are listening to us—residents of this city and the people who make the culture—then the upcoming vote on new short-term rental rules should be an easy one.

We’ve made it clear over and over again that we’re tired of our elected officials prioritizing tourists and the small number of people who profit off of them over the hundreds of thousands of us who live here and are just trying to keep our heads above water.

Our culture doesn’t exist without the people. A neighborhood is just a location, it’s the people who watch your house when you’re out of town or text you a reminder to move your car when it’s about to flood, who make it a home. According Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability’s most recent report, as many as 566 of those neighbors have been evicted from units now operating as short-term rentals, and that’s just the formal evictions that go through the courts.

As I type this, I want the empty lot I’m staring at across the street from me to house four families, not dozens of giant bachelor parties from Ohio. I want those new neighbors, but I also know that if that lot sells above the asking price to a short-term rental speculator it will raise my existing neighbors’ taxes and help push out some of the older African American homeowners still holding on in my neighborhood.

There’s been a lot of talk since the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down our residential short-term rental laws about the fate of short-term rental owners who have “followed the rules.” They’ve come  to City Council, stated their address for the record, and urged Councilmembers to pass weaker for our neighborhoods. I’m not sure why they thought we wouldn’t use their addresses to look up their properties in the city’s code enforcement system. Half of those who spoke at the March protections 2nd hearing appear to be operating illegally.

Even the very few who may actually follow the rules have likely contributed to evictions and rising prices. This is unnecessary harm to our neighborhoods all in the name of chasing higher profits. Because anyone who owns an entire extra home – say, the other side of double – is 1) doing better than the vast majority of us here in New Orleans, and 2) can bring in record-breaking rents just renting to New Orleanians.

Our  city is the third most expensive rental market for single people behind only New York and Miami, so using your extra home to make even more money off tourists just seems greedy.

This is why the vast majority of New Orleanians want to keep short-term rentals out of neighborhoods entirely. The Council recently proposed a compromise to limit short-term rentals in residential areas to one-per-square-block and it should be easy for them to at least hold the line on this policy and not water it down with exceptions. They should similarly show
basic respect to their constituents by following a transparent process and not offering last-minute amendments that no one has a chance to read.

If Councilmembers want to help the partial-unit operators, short-term rental owners who are only renting out a single bedroom in the home they live in, they have an opportunity to do that, too.

The Fifth Circuit ruling leaves us little choice but to administer future permits through a lottery, but City Councilmembers can weight that lottery in favor of these true “little guys,” who do the least harm to our neighborhoods. Renting out only one bedroom is what the “home
sharing” platforms like Airbnb were initially intended for and is more likely to benefit lower-income owners. It also doesn’t remove entire units of housing from our neighborhoods and mitigates most of the quality of life concerns by preventing big party houses.

Prioritizing partial-unit operators and standing firm on density restrictions is also only half the battle. Councilmembers have to address our deeply broken enforcement system too. Short-term rental speculators have been exploiting the disfunction and lack of capacity in the Department of Safety and Permits for years. Some of the best examples might be the speculators behind the Stayloom/Heirloom brand, who most recently bought up part of the old Brown’s Dairy property intended for affordable housing and turned it into dozens of giant party houses.

The Lens has previously chronicled their law-breaking in a story about a woman so fed up with Safety and Permits’ indifference to blatant violations that she rented an Airbnb on her block herself just to prove it was operating illegally.

True enforcement should start with holding Airbnb and the other short-term rental platforms accountable. Rather than spending hours of staff time on research, we should do what San Francisco, New York, and Chicago have already successfully compelled Airbnb to do: share their data on who is listing what properties on their platform. Once we know exactly who is listing illegally, Safety and Permits should be required to move those cases directly to adjudication and penalize the violators by banning their property from receiving a short-term rental permit for 10 years into the future.

These are relatively simple policy proposals to limit short-term rentals in our neighborhoods and do basic enforcement to force the bad actors out of the market.

The vast majority of New Orleanians have City Council’s back on this, even if most of us can’t take time off in the middle of a weekday to testify at a Council meeting, the way so many STR operators have. We understand though, that if there is to be anything unique and interesting left of this city, we need our Councilmembers to stand up for our neighbors and our culture, and against displacement and further gentrification by short-term rentals.

Maxwell Ciardullo is the Director of Policy and Communications at Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center