City Planning Commission opens public comment on New Orleans short-term rental laws_lowres

A protest outside New Orleans City Hall in 2016 urged the City Council to outlaw whole-home short-term rentals. The City Planning Commission is revisiting the city's short-term rental laws this year.

The New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) now has an extended deadline on its short-term rental report, which will head to the New Orleans City Council with recommendations on changes to the city's rules governing rentals on platforms like Airbnb. Public comment will be accepted through through Sept. 17, and the commission will review the study Sept. 5. The City Council is expected to discuss its findings in October.

The extension arrives as short-term rental operators and platforms craft what they're calling a "compromise" plan for governing STRs, after the City Council placed a temporary ban on most whole-home rentals in residential areas while the CPC further studies the impacts of the city's year-old laws.

This week, STR proponents the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity and platform HomeAway are hosting a series of community meetings to pitch their vision of STR legislation, outlined in a PowerPoint presentation and printed handouts, that proposes citywide caps on licenses but exempts formerly blighted properties from STR restrictions for up to five years and lifts the current ban on STRs in the French Quarter.

The groups kicked off their series of neighborhood meetings on Aug. 21 at the Jazz & Heritage Center in Treme, which has one of the highest concentrations of STRs among neighborhoods citywide. Operators shared frustrations with current legislation as well as their personal success, including a slick video from Alex Ramirez, who renovated a home in Mid-City and looked at the STR market "as a solution" when "no long-term tenants would move to his street." (The video did not include that Ramirez has 15 whole-home STRs, according to city records, down from more than 20 following the City Council's interim ban; three additional licenses are pending.) Another video featured Wayne Baquet of Li'l Dizzy’s Cafe, who said visitors using nearby STRs are supporting the restaurant.

The meetings highlighted operators' personal experiences, from long-time residents who point to STRs as a path to sustainable wealth, to the economy created around STRS, such as housekeeping services, and its fragility under threat of STR restrictions.

But other residents argued the wealth and revenue generated from STRs isn't felt among residents who live and work in the city, while the proliferation of STRs in residential areas has squeezed out long-time renters facing property owners who turn to platforms as a more lucrative option to balance the cost of property taxes and other expenses.

"Prosperity for whom?" asked Elizabeth Cook. "What about the residents who live here and work here? We’re having a hard time. ... We have a drastic shortage of affordable housing, it’s a crisis, and workers are being driven out of neighborhoods by STRs."

Ashley Hodgini with HomeAway admits that the city's current ordinance "leaves a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong" with STRs ("We realize there are bad stories and unintended consequences"), including a high concentration of STRs in residential areas, some as high as 14 percent.

HomeAway proposes placing a cap of two permits per "non-resident owner" and allowing "resident" operators to obtain additional permits with "proof of residency," like a driver's license or voters' registration. The group does not support a homestead exemption or a "one house, one home" proposal floated by housing advocacy organizations like Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative. Treme STR operator Penelope Randolph called homestead exemptions "a farce," and Hodgini said a "one house" proposal amounts to a "death sentence" for STRs; critics say their terms of a "proof of residency" aren't stringent enough.

Jane Place released a report earlier this year that pointed to large companies and real estate developers leveraging the new laws — which placed a legal, tax infrastructure on an already-existing, though illegal, practice — to turn potential housing stock into neighborhood-wide hotels. Though smaller opertors encompass a larger share of the overall number of STRs, nearly 20 percent of all operators owned nearly half of all STRs; a Gambit review found that the top 10 operators held more than 400 licenses.

ANP produced its own report with the University of New Orleans’ Hospitality Research Center, which reported a "$900 million economic impact" from the nearly 600,000 STR visitors in 2017.

Another Treme resident said the growth of STRs in her neighborhood has "dramatically eroded" the area's diversity. "What I’ve seen proposed here is not going to get me my neighbors back," she said. "I want to live in a neighborhood with neighbors."

Gentilly STR operator Reginald Johnson said his property insurance and taxes "have skyrocketed," echoing other operators' fears that new STR rules will permanently take their properties off the market.

"I’ll gladly rent you a house, but you’re going to have to pay."

The meetings continue 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22 at KIPP Leadership Academy in Marigny; 5:30 p.m. Thursday Aug. 23 at the Rosa F. Keller Memorial Library in Broadmoor; and 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30 at the Algiers Library.