New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and neighbors. Like any dynamic urban area, it’s also ripe for disruption and reinvention.
But there’s always a need for balance, and a role for government to play when treasured assets are threatened. The New Orleans City Council’s proposal to scale back short-term rentals in residential areas, which comes up for a vote Aug. 8, serves that goal.
The move to rewrite the city’s policy comes after years of emotional debate, and an election in which short-term rentals were a major issue. The legislation, authored by Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, would require that these properties in most neighborhoods have homestead exemptions, meaning that the owner claims the property as a primary residence. That would sharply limit the number of whole home rentals, which have proliferated in some downtown neighborhoods to the point where tourists vastly outnumber residents.
The counterargument, that people who purchased properties to rent out played by the rules at the time, has some merit. And short term rentals can play a role in reviving dormant properties in commercial areas such as along Canal Street.
But relying on rules never to change is inherently risky, and the city should always err on the side of the people who call it home, not investors or visitors. Besides, council members have been talking openly of changing the law ever since it was adopted in 2016.
The council vote comes as property values are on the rise; new numbers from the state-mandated quadrennial reassessment put the overall increase at more than 18 percent, but in some neighborhoods values are up by 50 percent or even more. There’s some debate over just how much the growth of short-term rentals has contributed to the city’s affordability crisis, but by making some properties more lucrative as short-term rentals than as full-time resident housing, it surely hasn’t helped things.
Palmer, whose council district includes some of the areas most severely impacted by short-term rentals and who highlighted the issue in her 2017 campaign, has said that “I believe these rules strike the appropriate balance between a sustainable sharing economy and preserving the fabric of our neighborhoods.”
We agree. Imposing reasonable new restrictions is democracy in action, for the benefit of exactly the people it’s supposed to benefit.