City Councilmembers talked the talk on protecting our neighborhoods from the proliferation of short-term rentals (STRs), addressing the affordable housing crisis, and preventing the destruction of historically Black neighborhoods at their March 23rd meeting. Unfortunately, their votes, with the exception of Councilmembers Green and Thomas, for a last-minute amendment weakened the new law.
At that meeting, the New Orleans City Council finalized new residential STR regulations after a months-long debate triggered by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that New Orleans’ STR regulations were in violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Throughout the process, density restrictions received the most public attention, with Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, neighborhood groups, and other housing advocates calling for no residential STRs or very strict density restrictions. Meanwhile STR owners and operators asked for the loosest density restrictions or a complete free-for-all on STRs in all neighborhoods.
In the first full council hearing in early March, City Council initially voted in favor of a strict limit of one STR per square block through an amendment authored by Councilmember Eugene Green. This amendment significantly reduced the density cap suggested by the City Planning Commission of four STRs per square block and would have been a step in the right direction to preserve our neighborhoods.
The evening before the final hearing, Councilmember Freddie King introduced a last-minute amendment that would allow for an exception to the rules where STR owners who do not receive a license in the lottery process can apply for up to two additional permits per square block. As a consequence, the density of STRs on every square block in every neighborhood can go up to three STRs. The amendment passed with two nays from Councilmembers Green and Thomas.
We know that limiting these hotels in our neighborhoods will allow more New Orleanians to stay in their neighborhoods close to their families, schools, and jobs, and the looser restrictions will disproportionately displace Black and Brown New Orleanians. This is important to us as a Fair Housing organization as we closely watch the disparate impact this has on communities of color, especially since the City is responsible to affirmatively further fair housing, or to take meaningful actions, make investments and achieve outcomes that remedy the segregation, inequities, and discrimination the Fair Housing Act was designed to redress.
In more positive news, an accompanying enforcement code ordinance outlines common-sense and strict rules for effective enforcement and real consequences for bad actors. Corporate mega-platforms like Airbnb and VRBO will be required to share data with City Council, a major step that if properly enforced, can prevent illegal STRs from operating. While we are hopeful for the new enforcement policies, we will cautiously observe if the new exception process allows further proliferation of STRs into residential neighborhoods and if it gives preferential treatment to those with inside connections or heavily lined pockets.
As promised, City Council has asked the City Planning Commission to offer a study and recommendations on the regulation on commercial short-term rentals, a separate type of license that is notorious for problematic loopholes. As the debate kicks off at what is scheduled to be the first City Planning Commission hearing on Tuesday, May 9th at 1:30pm in City Council Chambers, we’ll be advocating for the policy platform below:
Commercial STRs Should Cross Subsidize Affordable Housing
Commercial and mixed-use zones, like Magazine St., St. Claude, and Oretha Castle Haley, are often adjacent to residential zones or even bisect them and function as neighborhood main streets. In these areas, Commercial STRs are more detrimental than hotels because they displace residents and don’t have 24 staff for security and quality of life concerns. These Commercial STRS provide no benefit to the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods unless they are required to cross-subsidize affordable housing. LaFHAC recommends the following:
Finally, we want to thank all of you who sent over 4,400 emails to councilmembers, made countless phone calls, and showed up to give impassioned testimony. While we didn’t get the exact results we hoped for on residential short-term rentals, thanks to your hard work, we moved the needle in the right direction.