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It’s Time for Airbnb to Share Its New York Listings


time share airbnb

(photo: Sofie Hecht / Gotham Gazette)


Teaching children to share is difficult. Teaching Airbnb to share is impossible. Airbnb’s version of the “sharing economy” means more profits for the company and less affordable housing for the rest of us. 

Airbnb repeatedly allows and provides cover for commercial operators to break the law, turn our homes into hotels, and parachute into our communities to make a profit, pilfering apartments along the way. Instead of working with enforcement officials to curb illegal listings, the company uses every legal maneuver in the books—fighting subpoenas and refusing to share data—to take more and more housing out of our communities.

Airbnb could easily disclose data on its listings. It does so in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, and even China. But it refuses in New York. Why? Because it’s by far the company’s largest U.S. market, where it makes hundreds of millions more than any other U.S. city. 

It even goes as far as shielding unscrupulous commercial operators that evict tenants from rent-stabilized apartments just to protect its biggest money makers. 

And that’s on top of fueling gentrification and contributing to rising rents around the city as a result of stripping the long-term housing market of thousands of units.

Again, that’s not sharing. That’s taking. And that’s why the New York City Council’s efforts to rein in an unaccountable, deceitful corporation by forcing Airbnb to disclose the addresses of its listings to enforcement officials needs to happen, and happen soon.

Here’s the thing about Airbnb: the company thinks the rules don’t apply to it. In cities across the country and, in fact, across the globe, there has been a reckoning with communities and local governments passing sensible regulations to protect residents, only to see those laws ignored by a corporation that has built assets totaling more than $30 billion. And there are few cities that know this better than New York.

In 2010, state lawmakers modified the 1929 Multiple Dwelling Law to ban short-term rentals in New York City apartment buildings for fewer than 30 days while the primary tenant is not present to ensure the “sharing economy” did not close the door to affordable housing on actual long-term tenants, or create quality-of-life issues in buildings not zoned for hotel and commercial activity. It was strengthened in 2016 to allow for more enforcement but Airbnb continues to throw up roadblocks.

The company’s refusal to follow that law has allowed tens of thousands of illegal entire home/apartment listings to proliferate across the city in the midst of an affordable housing crisis when New Yorkers needed those apartments the most. 

Just last year alone, Airbnb generated $435 million in revenue from illegal listings in New York City, according to the School of Urban Planning at McGill University. That’s 435 million reasons why Airbnb cannot be trusted to police its own website, and why New York officials must step up, yet again, to pass additional regulations to stop Airbnb from breaking our laws. 

Like the stories we have heard in cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Chicago, Barcelona, Paris, Toronto, and Amsterdam, to name a few, the wealthiest among us have come to view Airbnb as a tool to make millions by turning homes into hotels and reducing available housing stock for everyone else. In New York, this has resulted in 13,500 units being removed from the housing market, according to the McGill report, making it even harder to find an available and affordable place to live. 

Make no mistake: despite the company’s best attempts to distract from the truth, the legislation being proposed by the New York City Council would have zero effect on the nice families in Airbnb’s commercials using the platform to make ends meet. Regular folks sharing their homes legally and responsibly are not the problem, and they are also not the norm when it comes to Airbnb. The millions of dollars the company invests in slick marketing and expensive lobbyists to peddle their ongoing misinformation campaigns does not change the fact its platform is overrun by unscrupulous landlords subverting our laws to make extra bucks at the expense of regular New Yorkers.

Why should Airbnb be rewarded for having the track record of a greedy corporation that refuses to follow the law?

In San Francisco, when Airbnb refused to police its site of illegal listings, the city enacted regulations forcing Airbnb to disclose the addresses of its listings, sending a strong message to bad actors and serial lawbreakers that they would no longer get a free pass to flout the law and profit from illegal activity.

Almost immediately, Airbnb listings in San Francisco dropped by more than half and thousands of apartments returned to the long-term market for permanent residents. 

Now it’s New York’s turn. 

No corporation should get to pick and choose what laws it follows and what laws it breaks in order to make a profit on the backs of middle-class families.

The New York City Council and Mayor de Blasio must see through Airbnb’s lies and deceit and act once and for all to protect tenants by swiftly passing legislation requiring Airbnb to share the addresses of its listings so enforcement officials can protect our communities and affordable housing.

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Tom Cayler is a member of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance in Manhattan.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

The Byford Plan and the MTA Information Deficit


m train mta

Andy Byford (photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)


New York City Transit’s new president, Andy Byford, recently presented a major plan to fix the subways, called “Fast Forward,” which involves a massive sustained investment in upgrading and modernizing the subway system, combined with a spending speed-up by closing more subway lines on nights and weekends to get the work done more rapidly. Other major priorities are also in the plan, like improved bus speeds, providing access for disabled people at more stations, strengthening construction management, and improving relationships with employees.

The keystone, however, is implementing a modern, computer-based train control system to improve the frequency and reliability of the subway trains with billions of dollars in investments in advanced signal systems. The ambitious goal -- a vastly improved transit system -- is what the riders and the people and businesses of the city and the metropolitan area want and need.

The MTA did not publish official figures on the costs, causing the press to seek unofficial figures, which were reported anywhere from $17 to $19 to $37 billion for different time frames. The MTA claims it is costing things out. The public is also being subjected to ongoing political theater as public figures use each other as punching bags about the MTA, with Cuomo versus de Blasio and Cuomo versus Nixon as the main events.

While the MTA has given the public a stated goal of a better system and a bare outline of a plan to get there, it has left the public in the lurch in relation to other key information beyond cost. This includes information to see how the plan matches up with the rest of the system’s needs that have to be paid for, everything from the expansion projects like East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway, to basics like replacing track and the legacy signal system that must be done continuously, to buying new subway cars and buses, to keeping the suburban rail lines running.

Additionally, assuming the MTA has to borrow a lot more money, the public deserves to know how much new revenue will be needed to cover a lot more debt, and when. There is also precious little on exactly how the MTA might gain control of the unending cost overruns on the multi-billion dollar expansion projects. Let’s put the punching bags in the corner and start looking at what kind of information deficit the MTA has provided the public.

Still in construction are actually two capital plans. An April 2018 report to the MTA Board Capital Program Oversight Committee shows that the 2010-14 Capital Plan is still not finished -- more than $5 billion of the $32 billion plan, which included Federal Hurricane Sandy recovery funds, has yet to be received. The current $33 billion 2015-2019 plan has only received $3.5 billion and is still 90% incomplete!

The report also says in 2018 the MTA plans to commit $7 billion to capital construction -- a pace that would result in most of the current plan rolling over unfinished into 2020 and beyond. The New York City government had actually given more funds to the two plans than the State government -- $879 million versus $465 million, by March of this year. The 2015-2019 Plan is running five years behind schedule, and the MTA is going to exhaust its available resources far short of completion. When this is going to happen is one of the main information deficits.

The current plan has at least one dry hole: a $7 billion IOU from the State written in law that gets provided when the MTA exhausts its current resources, or by 2025. The MTA needs an extra $600 million a year in a new revenue to pay debt service on what I estimate to be $7 billion in bonds to fill that hole.

The agency has a second dry hole: it projected a $600 million deficit by 2021 in February (even after two fare hikes), which resulted in Standard & Poor downgrading the agency’s bond rating. Agency officials also told a senior state legislator before the state budget adoption that the MTA could not afford the $11 billion commitment to the capital plan that is supposed to be funded by the MTA itself. These two problems will likely come together around 2021 but the MTA is now not giving a date to the public for when new revenue sources will be needed.

These shortfalls don’t include the new Byford plan.

Information deficit one, therefore, is how much money the MTA really needs in new revenue to pay for the current plan, before you even put the Byford “Fast Forward” plan on top of it. The answer is probably more than $1 billion a year before Byford. Information deficit two is how much money the Byford plan will cost on top of the current capital plan and its successor (the 2020-2024 plan), and how much new revenue will be needed for that.

The Byford plan has two five-year phases to get the new signal system constructed. If these investments and the money needed start moving soon, the first phase would overlap with the completion of the 2015-2019 capital plan, out to 2025. The second phase would overlap with the 2020-24 plan still in development by the MTA, with negotiations over funding between the State and the City to come. That 2020-2024 capital plan is scheduled to be provided to the MTA Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) in the fall of 2019. The current 2015-19 plan can be amended at any time with approval by the CPRB.

Governor Cuomo reaffirmed his support for congestion pricing shortly after the Byford plan was released; Mayor de Blasio did the same for the added millionaires tax he’s long-pursued, and Cynthia Nixon endorsed both plus a pollution tax as well. In truth the sum of revenue from a congestion pricing plan and added millionaires tax are probably both needed to get to 2025, complete the current capital plan, and overlay it with phase one of “Fast Forward.” New sources of revenue will also be needed for phase two of “Fast Forward”  plus the regular needs of the system, but those requirements are seven years off or more, so while long-term funding streams are needed, we don’t need to give everybody headaches about those numbers right now.

The Legislature created a Metropolitan Transportation Sustainability Advisory Workgroup in the budget, consisting of a group of appointees by the Governor, the Mayor, the Assembly, and the Senate, to report back to the Legislature at the end of 2018 on the host of complex issues associated with mass transit. Reporting was also required on the MTA’s Subway Action Plan, which the State forced the City to pay half of after Mayor de Blasio refused.

The Legislature should follow this up before the session concludes with a requirement that the MTA submit its 2020-24 plan earlier than fall 2019, to address the information deficit. The requirement should include an integration with the Byford plan and details of how costs can be controlled and contained in the capital construction budgets.

The MTA needs to cost out the ambitious goals and let the public know how much money is needed soon -- the political theater probably won’t stop for a long time but it would help if we could all work with the right numbers.

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

The Wrong Site for a Bronx Jail


De Blasio Rikers Bronx Jail

Mayor de Blasio on Rikers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Closing Rikers Island jails is the right decision for New York City, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of a thriving community. The Concourse neighborhood in the West Bronx has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Densely packed blocks of tenants and homeowners, public and parochial schools, libraries and mom-and-pop shops surround a glut of municipal uses. Shoehorning a 25-story, 1,500-bed jail into this neighborhood would be a significant and lasting mistake, one that would undermine the progress the West Bronx has made and the progress we hope to achieve through new borough-based jail facilities.

A new jail at East 161 Street, behind the Bronx Hall of Justice, would bring additional traffic to an area that already regularly experiences gridlock. There’s practically no parking in the area and it’s not uncommon to find court and police cars parked on sidewalks and in medians. And that’s before factoring in Yankees game-day traffic.

Proponents of the 161 Street site argue that by eliminating Department of Correction bus trips, the jail would relieve congestion. It might help, but the traffic generated by correction staff and visitors would increase traffic in the area tenfold. The de Blasio administration admits it has no plans to expand available parking in the area. Unless the City comes up with a real plan to reduce congestion, it’s unfair and unsafe to site a jail in this area.

If the 161 Street proposal were to go through, the Bronx’s borough-based jail facility would be less than 50 feet away from one of its highest performing high schools. In addition to the high school, an elementary campus, and a parochial school share the same block. I strongly believe no student should go to school in the shadow of a jail. It would disrupt the learning environment and undermine our efforts to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Simply put, our young people deserve better.

Finally, if the administration wants to truly create a more humane jail, I question the rationale behind choosing the site with the smallest square footage. The proposed NYPD tow pound site boasts a lot of 183,000 square feet, in contrast to the 93,000 – 115,000 square feet afforded at the East 161 Street site. Cells, communal spaces, medical facilities, and even correction officers’ quarters will all have to be smaller. Recreation facilities will have to be on the roof, where detainees could potentially see into the apartments of nearby residents.

Female prisoners will have to be housed elsewhere, adding even more traffic to the community when they’re bused in for court appearances. The lot size at East 161 Street would require the jail be built at a towering 25 stories, raising concerns about officer response time in the event of an emergency, like a riot or a fire.

These are serious concerns and must not be taken lightly.

Ultimately, the proposal to site a jail at East 161 Street falls short. Its proximity to the courts may speed up cases and benefit court officers, but the risk to the community, to our children, and to the integrity and intent of borough-based facilities is too great to ignore. The City originally proposed the tow pound site, just two miles away. That site has a larger footprint, allowing for a 10-story facility with ground level recreation, and is several blocks away from the nearest school. I urge the administration to return to its original plan: build a borough jail facility at the tow pound, and allow the Concourse community to keep thriving.

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City Council Member Vanessa Gibson represents parts of the Bronx. On Twitter @VanessaLGibson.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]



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