It was clear immediately that a meeting to discuss the future of short-term rentals in New Orleans wasn't meant to include voices from both sides of the debate. In a meeting room inside the New Orleans Council on Aging office on Canal Street on Aug. 7, the New Orleans Short-Term Rental Committee held a public meeting about its mission. At the top of the meeting, French Quarter resident Rob White clarified it wasn't going to be a debate, nor would it be a discussion. At that point, several people left the room. One person yelled, "Bullshit."
The room nearly overflowed as committee members and security turned people away, many of them members of the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP), which has lobbied to support New Orleans residents using short-term rental services like Airbnb and VRBO. White was the only speaker during the next 45 minutes. He railed against absentee owners and how neighborhoods are dissolving under the creep of short-term rentals, and how enforcement has been a total failure on the city's part.
The group — composed of "neighbors for neighborhoods" with a message to "Get it right, New Orleans" — demands the city take a more strict approach to enforcing laws against "illegally" operating rentals, particularly those advertised on services like Airbnb and VRBO. Among its goals of "getting it right" are avoiding "half-baked" attempts at regulation in cities like Portland, Oregon, which White called a failure because only a fraction of rental listings complied. "New Orleans should not be the next lemming to jump off the cliff," White said.
White said the city needs to create and use effective enforcement measures to address regulations already on the books, including current bed and breakfast ordinances. "Enforcement is broken," White said. The committee also wants to tackle home affordability and availability (If a building "can house a permanent resident, it should house a permanent resident," White said), as well as "rogue hotels" with absentee landlords who own and rent a property, sometimes with several units in a building, as short-term rentals, despite not living there themselves. White said absentee owners aren't participating in a sharing economy, they're "colonizing."
"Absentee owners are not sharing the neighborhood, they're sharing me," he said. "We victims are powerless."
The committee is not a city-sanctioned organization but is a volunteer-run group made up of members of neighborhood groups like Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates (VCPORA) and bed-and-breakfast operators. Its co-chairs are Brian Furness and Jay Seastrunk.
Freddie King, constituent services director for New Orleans District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, attended the meeting. He told Gambit that Ramsey is looking at the short-term rentals issue within her district, which encompasses rental-heavy French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater.
Committee member Meg Lousteau (also the director of VCPORA) said the committee has yet to decide whether to hold another round of public meetings. —