The roughly 70 public speakers at Tuesday’s New Orleans City Planning Commission hearing on proposed changes to the city’s short-term rental law had much to discuss. But they did agree on one thing: they didn’t like the idea of limiting short-term rental permits in residential areas to two per block.
Short-term landlords said it was too restrictive. Neighborhood leaders in areas around the French Quarter said it was too permissive. Housing advocates, who fear it will result in visitor accommodation being pushed deeper into gentrifying areas, said short-term rental permits should be banned entirely in most residential areas.
And many members of these otherwise fractious groups said the Planning Department’s proposals overlook a larger problem: commercial developers exploiting mixed-use districts and other zoning loopholes in otherwise residential areas to build short-term rental complexes that function like hotels.
The deadline of March 31 is imminent
The narrow focus on the residential portion of the law was intentional because federal courts struck down a requirement for local homeowners to prove they live in the properties they rent. This was deemed unconstitutional because it discriminated against foreign owners. New Orleans now has a court-ordered March 31 deadline to replace the residency requirement, and policymakers are scrambling to find other limits on the total number of permits.
The Planning Commission was due to vote on the staffing proposals on Tuesday, but the meeting was called off due to the threat of severe weather. A vote is expected this week. City Council will make the final decision, and council members are likely to be heard by voters and advocacy groups over the next few weeks.
As the per-block permit limit changes — one on each side of a block — it seems more likely. In addition to the allotted permit on each side of a block, planning commission staffers are considering ways to include more temporary permits or other exceptions, said Executive Director Robert Rivers.
Rivers told commissioners that staff had run out of time to complete those recommendations, but that “it’s certainly something that’s on the table and will probably be talked about by March 31.”
Homeowners are looking for income
Many of the speakers said they are homeowners who depend on short-term rental income to pay for the rising cost of property insurance, taxes and other homeownership costs. They are calling for existing permits to be grandfathered for fear of pitting neighbors against each other in a lottery the details of which have yet to be worked out.
“I shudder to think that we’re going to have a lottery to decide who gets to stay and who gets to go,” said homeowner Judy Johnson.
However, some housing advocates said homeowners have a responsibility to risk relying on a relatively new industry that is still evolving, especially when there is high demand for market-rate rentals from full-time residents.
“Neighbors against neighbors is absurd,” said Daquiri Jones, organizer at Jane Place. “I work with a lot of elderly tenants, the disabled and workers who can’t find housing. [Short-term rentals] are actually pitting homeowners against renters.”