N.O. Council bars most new, renewed short-term rentals — for now
The New Orleans City Council has banned new whole-home short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods — temporarily — until new rules are drawn up at City Hall.
The motions "press pause" on one of the most prolific types of rentals — the temporary STRs with a 90-day limit, which encompass half of all 4,500 STRs on platforms like Airbnb — "until we tailor regulations to meet the needs of the city of New Orleans," said District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who authored the motions. If existing temporary permits expire during the moratorium, they can't be renewed. The new restrictions are effective immediately and will remain in effect up to nine months.
The motions sparked lengthy debate at the first full meeting of the new City Council May 24. Last week's debate tracked previous discussions of the city's STR regulations, which went into effect last year. "This legislation is a first step towards revising and improving the STR regulations to restore and preserve the residential fabric in historic areas of the city," Palmer said in a statement.
The City Council unanimously approved three motions. One creates an interim zoning district (IZD) prohibiting new and renewed STR licenses for certain types of rentals, another prohibits some new commercial STRs and a third redirects the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) to broaden its ongoing study of the city's STR laws in the coming months. The council directed the CPC to look at New Orleans' laws and STR presence compared to similarly sized cities such as Austin, Texas, Charleston, South Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee and Savannah, Georgia and to report whether those cities' laws could work in New Orleans. The study also will review STRs' contributions to the city's affordable housing fund as well as data-sharing and enforcement mechanisms.
The most far-reaching council action prohibits new and renewed "temporary" STRs, which typically are whole-home rentals in locations not occupied by the owners, many of whom live out of town. This prohibition includes listings in Historic Core, Historic Urban, the CBD and Mixed Use 1 and 2 zoning districts. That effectively excludes new or renewed whole-home STRs in most of Gentilly, Lakeview, New Orleans East and suburban parts of Algiers.
The CPC will hold a public meeting by July 23 and will submit its report by Sept. 21.
Quote of the week
"I realize why Louisiana is shaped like a boot, because we're a kick-the-can state every time." — State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, bemoaning inaction to establish a sustainable budget by the state Legislature. Legislators met last week for the sixth special session under Gov. John Bel Edwards, once again attempting to find a solution to a $648 million budget hole that will open at the beginning of the state's fiscal year on July 1.
Council members, tourism leaders address health care for service workers
At a news conference that was thin on specifics but signaled support for rank-and-file workers in the city's most prominent industry, New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams issued a "clarion call" for health care for local hospitality workers.
Joined by New Orleans Tourism Marketing Commission (NOTMC) President Mark Romig, Cheryl Teamer of New Orleans & Company and Districts B and C Council members Jay Banks and Kristin Gisleson Palmer, Williams pledged to develop a plan to provide cost-accessible health care services for hospitality workers and to help them better share in the bounty of the New Orleans tourism industry.
While the media event, described as a "first step," revealed little about concrete programs, it did suggest an agenda for three members of the newly inaugurated New Orleans City Council. It also added to the public record an indisputable acknowledgement by both civic and business leaders of the struggles of the city's 88,000 hospitality workers, who feel squeezed by an increased cost of living and scant benefits in many workplaces.
"For the first 300 years of this city's history, hospitality has looked one way," Williams said. "It has to look different for our next 300 years." He called workers the "backbone" of the tourism industry, saying they're "the person [tourists] see first, last and in the middle" of visits to New Orleans.
Banks and Palmer, whose districts include tourism-heavy downtown, joined the conference to line up behind Williams' call. Palmer said she wants to see "thoughtful policies" that will allow workers to better access health care, transportation and affordable housing. Banks referred to tax revenues generated through tourism, saying those dollars are what support the city. "The people that make that happen have to be part of the equation," he said.
The news conference followed a demonstration earlier this month during which hospitality workers and their supporters appeared before the NOTMC board to demand a free health care clinic for industry workers, paid for by the city's hotel occupancy tax. Workers said low wages often prevent them from being able to purchase health insurance or visit a doctor.
Romig reiterated his appreciation for last week's protest on behalf of the NOTMC board. He said his organization, which markets the city as a tourism destination, will work with the New Orleans City Council and Mayor LaToya Cantrell's office to maintain New Orleans as "culturally rich and diverse" while "ensur[ing] our community is the fair community that we deserve."
In a brief interview, Williams and Romig suggested the possibility of partnerships with medical providers at Louisiana State University, Tulane University and University Medical Center clinics, as well as working to ensure that community members are aware of existing service options. Williams declined to provide Gambit with details about a timeline for any projects related to this initiative or how future projects might be funded, saying he was still in the process of gathering information and listening to stakeholders.
Court Watch NOLA report: recorded calls, few interpreters
Recording phone calls, a lack of language interpreters, guilty pleas without an attorney present — Court Watch NOLA's annual report reviewing New Orleans' court system, which was released last week, sheds light on a criminal justice system that's both struggling to keep up with its cases and making cases more difficult for defendants.
The group collected data from volunteers who witnessed roughly 800 court sessions at criminal, magistrate and municipal courts in 2017.
The report found that in nearly half of all Municipal Court sessions observed by Court Watch NOLA volunteers, defendants pleaded guilty without a defense attorney present. Possession of marijuana was the most common offense for a guilty plea.
New Orleans Magistrate Court requested an interpreter for only 72 percent of cases where an interpreter was needed, but in 87 percent of those cases a judge ruled without an interpreter. In Criminal District Court, an interpreter was needed in 13 percent of the cases observed; an interpreter arrived within an hour of the request in 85 percent of those cases, but if they didn't arrive, judges postponed the case to a different time.
This year's report made international headlines for its revelation that phone calls at the local jail were shared with the New Orleans District Attorney's Office, potentially violating attorney-client privilege. Court Watch NOLA requested Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) stop recording those calls, after which OPP set up a system allowing nonrecorded calls to attorneys' landlines. Calls to attorneys' cellphones continue to be recorded. Court Watch NOLA surveyed jails across the U.S. and found that 83 percent "allow attorneys access to unmonitored attorney-client phone calls, none of them distinguished between when an attorney used a cellphone or a landline."
Report: More than half of New Orleans renters 'rent-burdened'
More than half of New Orleans residents are renters. Among those 181,400 people, according to a recent report from National Equity Atlas, roughly 60 percent are "rent-burdened," spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing. Women are disproportionately impacted by housing costs — 72 percent of women of color and 49 percent of white women spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
The report echoes local data. According to the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA), renters statewide have faced a 19 percent increase in the cost of rent since 2011 and renters in New Orleans saw an increase of 23 percent.
If those renters paid what they could afford (less than 30 percent of their income), households would see an average savings of $7,200, according to the report.
"This study further proves what we already know to be true in New Orleans," said Housing NOLA and GNOHA Director Andreanecia Morris. "We are at an important crossroads. We can choose to stabilize our citizens, allow them to contribute to the local economy and change the course of New Orleans' next 300 years, or we can allow this trend to continue and undoubtedly force more of our people out of the city they call home."
Simply super: The big game returns in 2024
New Orleans will host Super Bowl LVIII in 2024 — 11 years after the city hosted its last NFL championship. The NFL awarded New Orleans its 11th hosting gig after a bid presentation dubbing New Orleans a neon-lit "2024/7" city.
In a statement, New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson said hosting a Super Bowl "is synonymous with New Orleans as is the legacy of my husband Tom Benson. This is a great honor and well deserved for our city as New Orleans and our Gulf South region continue to prosper in so many ways."
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said bringing the Super Bowl to New Orleans would create a "tremendous" economic impact — the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation measures the last New Orleans-hosted Super Bowl's impact at $480 million, with $21 million to the state.
"So we're talking a significant shot in the arm," Cantrell said. "We have proven that our destination is second to none — it is special and I believe the NFL recognizes that fact. They're not coming to New Orleans for the 11th time for no reason."
Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 brought many things: the first large-scale glimpses of the impacts of short-term rentals in New Orleans, Beyonce singing the national anthem at a press conference, a famous blackout in the Superdome and the international press descending on the city — many for the first time since Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures.
Of course, Super Bowl (58) will fall right in the middle of Carnival season on Feb. 4. That's 9 days before Fat Tuesday.
New ferries scheduled to arrive in June
At its monthly meeting last week, the Regional Transit Authority's (RTA) Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to elect current board member Flozell Daniels Jr. as its chairman and to begin negotiating a contract with Office of Safety and Permits head Jared Munster to serve as interim director of RTA.
During his time as Office of Safety and Permits director, Munster also functioned as the city's liaison to RTA. His interim appointment fills a position that had been vacant since September 2017 with the resignation of Greg Cook, who was executive director for less than a year. Daniels, who is president and CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana, succeeds Sharonda Williams as the board's chair. Williams was appointed chair in 2016 but resigned this month, a few days before the inauguration of Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Daniels was appointed by then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu. The transit organization's eight-person board includes representatives appointed by the mayor of New Orleans and the president of Jefferson Parish.
The board's first meeting with its new chair included an update about two new ferry boats that are approaching completion. Justin Augustine III, vice president at RTA management group Transdev, described a physical inspection of the new boats, which are scheduled to be delivered in mid-June — a slight delay from their original May delivery date, which was caused by requests made by the U.S. Coast Guard for changes to stairwells and access hatches to fuel tanks.
There isn't an exact date for the boats' appearance on ferry routes, Augustine said, because the boats have to pass another inspection before being put into service.