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MaC-NOTES: Short-term rentals are a short-term problem

Writing about short-term rentals has been a challenge. I mentioned it in August in advance of CPC’s (City Planning Council) recommendations to regulate properties advertised by services such as AirBnB, and even my motivation for writing this column was sparked by an investment-property-renovation, whole-home-rental next door to my pad in Mid-City.

But, though I’d been telling people that we need to deal with this issue because of its ramifications on the larger problem of affordable housing, it wasn’t enough to jump on the “we’re protecting our culture and our neighborhoods” bandwagon. I didn’t want to simply echo the fashionable anti-AirBnB sentiment. We need to focus on our shortage of housing stock and not be distracted by self-serving strategies.

For example, consider some of the neighborhood groups fighting to curb short-term rental activity, especially “whole-home rentals” owned by those who don’t even live in New Orleans. These are often the same groups who are ambivalent at best when it comes to multi-family housing and fight vigorously for zoning overlays, such as the one defeated on Maple Street discussed last week, to prevent music venues near them.

One of these groups, “Neighbors First for Bywater” even went so far as to organize a faux “Jazz Funeral” for “affordable housing and actual neighbors.” Their concern rings false for two reasons: Firstly, band withstanding, their parody of our Second Line tradition looked homogeneous to a fault and seemingly devoid of our more vulnerable community members. Secondly, they held it at the same time as that weekend’s legitimate Second Line, a 15th annual parade hosted by the “Family Ties” Social Aid & Pleasure Club. You want to show support for the cultural community? Try joining it, not mocking it. And, no, it won’t be overlooked that this group was part of the Riverfront Alliance campaigning against live music in restaurants.

Other neighborhood groups have joined forces in movements such as “NOLA Neighbors,” but it shouldn’t take anyone long to figure out that their policy position is just a turf war emphasizing “protection” of the French Quarter and Garden District (points five and six from their platform are directed specifically to those “high pressure areas” while no other areas in the city are mentioned). I might take them more seriously when they actually address affordable housing in their policy suggestions, show evidence that they also care about what happens in Central City, or the Treme or Marigny, and when they stop suing music venues (Search “VCPORA music”).

Of course, the hotel lobby wants to join the battle for our culture by fighting short-term rental vendors. But, besides the obvious fact, that these are their competitors, how much can truly be said about their interest in residents’ quality of life when most of the service-industry jobs that they and the tourism industry provide barely make a living wage possible? No, their argument that tip income makes statistics less drastic than they seem isn’t to be taken seriously.

Is there agreement among these groups? Sure. They even share some of the concerns voiced by MaCCNO, the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans. But, even if regulation of short-term rentals is eventually agreed upon, and more importantly, enforced, agendas that only pay lip service to culture, will neither yield good policy nor meaningfully address the challenges to culture-bearers affected by unaffordable housing.

This Thursday, we expected public comments to be taken on this debate. But since City Council has announced moving this to their meeting on the 20th, they will most likely take comments and vote on whether or not to accept CPC’s recommendations, then. MaCCNO’s executive director, Ethan Ellestad, suggests that we can still “... email comments to City Council. But if you want to speak, show up early on the 20th, fill out a comment card, be prepared to hang out awhile.” If you agree with statements by GNOHA (Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance) or MaCCNO, you can best make use of your minute by stating that first, then putting in your two cents.

You can also follow MaCCNO’s live tweets of the meeting or watch it online. I’ll guess that when transplants manage to feel that their Bohemian fantasy is less threatened or when the NIMBY faction becomes satisfied and shuts their gates and windows, they’ll drop the issue. But the rest of us will still have a long way to go, so make the effort to be part of a real conversation about long-term strategies to protect culture in the new-New Orleans.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at evan@nolavie.com.