A group promoting short-term rentals in New Orleans wants to double the number of days that owners can rent out homes in residential neighborhoods and to expand rentals to the French Quarter, where they are mostly banned now.
The proposal would cap the number of whole-home rentals in residential neighborhoods, at more than twice the current total, and it would allow all currently licensed rentals to remain.
The New Orleans City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to deny four zoning changes that would let the property owners rent out their buildings…
However, even the head of the group behind the proposal, the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, doesn’t expect it to go anywhere until at least May. That’s when five of the seven City Council members will be replaced with newcomers and when Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell will become mayor.
A memo describing the proposed revisions calls for limiting new rentals of entire homes in residential districts — those regulated through “temporary licenses”— to two per block face.
Eric Bay, president of the alliance, said that’s key to “mitigating the threat of any further expansion” into residential areas.
However, that limit would apply only to new licenses, not renewals of licensed properties.
“The idea that they’re going to propose block limitations after grandfathering in every single one with a permit doesn’t actually address the problem of entire blocks being taken over by ghost hotels,” said Breonne DeDecker of the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, an affordable-housing advocacy group.
Bay’s group also proposes a citywide limit of 5,000 such temporary licenses — more than double the 2,100 issued as of last week, according to city records.
In addition, it would double the number of days that temporary license holders can rent their properties — from 90 to 180.
Overall, there are about 4,000 permits for short-term rentals — also including buildings in commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods — throughout New Orleans, concentrated in the historic neighborhoods along the Mississippi River.
Opponents of short-term rentals say that in popular neighborhoods, Airbnbs have taken over, displacing some residents and pushing up rents for those who remain.
In an October report, The Lens and HuffPost found one block in Treme where 10 of 16 residential addresses were short-term rentals. In Faubourg Marigny, 10 percent of residences were registered as short-term rentals.
Proponents counter that the rentals help locals, who’ve been hit by rising property taxes and other expenses, make money on the side to pay their bills.
With these proposals, “we are not taking over neighborhoods. We are protecting affordable housing,” Bay said. “We wrote those proposals with an opposition mindset.”
His group proposes doubling — from $1 to $2 — a nightly city tax on short-term rentals, which is used for affordable housing and blight remediation. It also calls for significantly increasing permit fees for all three types of short-term rental licenses.
Invariably, someone brings up the anatomically shaped balloons.
While it's not clear that the alliance's proposal will gain support from either current or incoming council members, it’s a sign that the debate over short-term rentals is not settled.
When council members voted for the law legalizing short-term rentals in December 2016, several pledged to revisit the issue after seeing its effects. Groups on both sides have lobbied for revisions, and incoming council members have signaled they want to see changes, too.
In general, the alliance's proposals would open up more types of properties for rental and would allow many of them to be rented more of the year.
Before the city passed the ordinance in 2016, the average for-rent entire home was being rented to tourists 147 nights a year, Bay said. The 90-day limit was a concession to the hotel lobby, he said.
Temporary whole-home rentals were pitched as a way to accommodate residents who wanted to rent out their homes while they were out of town. Airbnb proponents and Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration downplayed concerns that such properties would become vacation rentals exclusively.
But Bay conceded that's how most of those licenses are being used. Raising the annual limit on rental days wouldn't have much impact, he said, because those homes don't have long-term occupants anyway.
"It is what it is, a short-term rental," he said.
Under the proposal, commercial licenses, which allow property owners and managers to rent their buildings to tourists year-round, would be expanded to condominium buildings in residentially zoned areas, subject to the buildings’ bylaws.
Those licenses now are available only in commercial and mixed-use zoning districts. Such districts are scattered throughout some largely residential neighborhoods such as Central City and Mid-City.
New Orleans may tighten laws on short-term rentals in some commercial properties as the result of a dispute over proposed Airbnb rentals above…
Bay said his group spoke to about 50 condo associations and reviewed their bylaws prior to the adoption of the law. The overwhelming majority, he said, restrict short-term rentals in some way.
Accessory licenses, which allow homeowners to rent rooms or half-doubles year-round, would be expanded to apartment buildings with three or four units.
Half-doubles are among the most common types of long-term rental units in the city, and some have criticized this part of the law as a loophole because it allows long-term housing to be converted to tourist lodging.
DeDecker said expanding this type of license to other rental units in three- and four-unit buildings would only exacerbate the problem.
“That’s going to just continue to remove housing units off the market,” she said. “The law is already full of loopholes. Not only does this reform not deal with any of them, it’s going to continue to make the problem worse.”
The proposal to expand short-term rentals to the French Quarter would be a major shift. The 2016 law allows them on only a few blocks of Bourbon Street near Canal Street.
The group calls for allowing short-term rentals in residentially zoned parts of the Quarter, which would open up most of the Lower Quarter, which has more of a neighborhood feel.
Bay said he hoped that would alleviate demand in neighborhoods adjacent to the French Quarter, like Faubourg Marigny, which has the highest concentration of short-term rental licenses in the city.
“The areas outside of the French Quarter, they got bombarded,” Bay said. “When you spray for roaches in your kitchen, and only your kitchen, where do they go?"
He said his group met with council members or their staff last month to discuss the proposed changes. But council members were worried about pushing through an expansion of short-term rentals during a lame-duck period.
“It’s not going to be heard,” Bay said. “Everyone’s afraid to touch it.”
Cantrell spokesman David Winkler-Schmit confirmed that she met with Bay last month. He said Cantrell declined to comment on the merits of the proposal and whether she would consider it after she becomes mayor.
“Any conversations about any changes to an ordinance require further conversations and public input,” Winkler-Schmit said.
He noted it would be tough to get the proposal before the council by May. Land-use matters must be vetted by the City Planning Commission staff, then go to a vote by the commission, before the council can vote on them.
Friday afternoon, the Short-Term Rental Committee, a group pushing to limit the practice, said it had heard that Airbnb proponents would "push legislation" at next week's council meeting. It called for the council to delay action until after Mardi Gras.
But Councilwoman Stacy Head said she doesn’t see the proposal going anywhere with the present council.
“I firmly believe the majority of the current council has no interest in expanding short-term rentals,” she said.
Jeff Adelson of The New Orleans Advocate contributed to this story.
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