Airbnb Supporters and Haters Demonstrate Ahead Of City Council Hearing

Committee on Housing and Buildings met today to discuss Airbnb (Photo: NYC Progressive Caucus)

Mention Airbnb and you risk inciting some very strong feelings in New Yorkers. Since the the State Attorney General challenged the legality of the apartment and home rental site, people have turned out in droves to either defend or decry the online service. Demonstrations outside City Hall this morning exemplified the chasm between Airbnb’s vehement supporters (who are often hosts and users of the site’s services) and its just as dogged detractors who charge that hosts are running illegal hotels. See: the Share Better Coalition, supported by hotel industry representatives that, for obvious reasons, have an interest in seeing Airbnb go down. Not surprisingly, the latter camp finds a great deal of supporters in City Council. Some members have even called on their constituents to report their neighbors to 311 for running Airbnb operations of their own. Today’s demonstration preceded a hearing held by the Committee on Housing and Buildings, which meets today to determine what impact Airbnb has on the city’s housing market. Yesterday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer released testimony to be presented at the hearing, and it does not bode well for Airbnb supporters. Stringer argued that apartment sharing effectively displaces people and contributes to the ongoing affordable housing crisis in the city: “These units were effectively removed for practical use in the New York City housing market […] While there are 3.3 million housing units in the City of New York, the fact remains that we need every unit we can get to combat rapidly rising rents.” Supporters of Airbnb argue that the site helps struggling New Yorkers earn additional income on underutilized space and that their homes bear no resemblance to hotels or hostels. Some argue that Airbnb is part of the”share economy” that enables people to earn money by sharing things they already own including apartments, cars, and even bikes. In October, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released a report charging that almost three-quarters of the short-term rentals booked in New York City from 2010-2014 violated existing laws making it illegal to rent out an apartment or home for less than 30 days. The report also alleges that together Airbnb and its hosts profited to the tune of $344 million dollars. In order to track down Airbnb operations, Schneiderman’s office subpoenaed the company’s booking records. Schneiderman’s beef rests in the lack of regulation and missed opportunities for approximately $65 million in tax revenue. Airbnb has made it clear that they provide all the avenues for the site’s users to pay taxes on any income earned from renting out extra space, but the site has also courted the state in proposing new regulations. Rather than have the site simply shut down in New York, Airbnb says it can help collect taxes from hosts, making for a process in which everyone can win. Except, you know, people who can’t find any apartments to rent in desirable neighborhoods because residents are using Airbnb to turn a profit for themselves while they live upstate or something.

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