(photo: Andrew Russeth via Flickr)
If you’ve lived in New York City anytime in the last half-century, one thing is as certain as the sun will rise: the rent is just too damn high.
Now, in recent weeks, defenders of the hotel industry would have you believe that this is some new phenomena to be entirely blamed on hardworking home-sharers. How dare they!
I don’t buy it, and neither should you. This is all just part of the hotel industry lobby’s smear campaign, funded by big corporate hotels, like Trump Hotels in New York City. Let’s walk through their mudslinging playbook one step at a time and then talk about the truth.
Step one: Cite a “report” authored by a Canadian researcher and based on unreliable data and offensive racial profiling of hosts -- and most importantly, paid for by the hotel industry lobby -- and pass it off as serious academic research. Falsely claim that New Yorkers sharing their homes are responsible for gentrification.
Step two: Demonize New Yorkers sharing their home so that they can afford to start a business, pay their bills -- and even combat those rising rent prices and stay in their home. Accuse these law-abiding people of gaming the system and operating in secret, and falsely claim that they are the single reason rents are increasing. And go for the shock and awe effect: compare them to President Trump (who, by the way, is a famous hotelier, for anyone looking to make accurate connections).
Step three: Erroneously claim that Airbnb doesn’t share data about listings, hosts, and impact on the local economy. Paint Airbnb and home-sharers as a faceless, opaque, corporate special interest.
Check, check, and check for the hotel lobby.
Over the years, I’ve become skeptical of any front group that will stop at no end to deliberately demonize people and cast blame. It’s a page right out of the Trump playbook - under the chapter titled, “Fake News.”
Because in the case of home-sharing, the truth - the real truth - tells a different story.
The truth is that increasing costs of rent, property taxes, and utilities are resulting in some New Yorkers, particularly in communities of color whose families have lived in their neighborhoods for generations, being pushed out of their homes.
The truth is that, for these New Yorkers under increasing pressure to make ends meet, home-sharing platforms like Airbnb have been a tool of economic empowerment, especially in communities of color. It helps New Yorkers pay for that unexpected doctor’s bill, afford their taxes, fund a new business - and in the case of Airbnb, it’s even helped 79 percent of hosts to stay in their homes. The cost of living is not going down, but in the case of these New Yorkers, home-sharing has ensured that it doesn’t overtake them and their families.
The truth is that home-sharing has helped New Yorkers take control of their economic future. With tourism booming, these new tools have helped expand economic opportunity to New Yorkers, not just hotel owners and others who have traditionally held the wealth and the power in our city.
But here’s the most important truth: if any one party is to shoulder the blame for the declining affordability of our city, it’s the hotel industry that has that dubious honor.
A recent report by the Internet Association found that hotel development (not home sharing) cost the city affordable housing. This report looked at public data, showing that between 2010 and 2016 hotel development “resulted in the loss of more than 750,000 square feet of pre existing residential space and 773 pre existing residential units.”
The hotel industry is all too willing to cast home sharing New Yorkers as the culprits of the affordable housing crisis. But it’s clear that is just a diversion - because when it comes to their big, brand-spanking-new hotel developments, they aren’t putting their money where their mouth is. Consider this truth bomb dropped in that same report:
“If just half of the total new hotel space had been used for residential purposes and 20% of that space was dedicated to affordable housing, more than 2.9 million square feet of market-rate housing and over 727,000 square feet of affordable housing could have been created. That is the equivalent of 3,878 market-rate and 969 affordable one-bedroom units, assuming an average unit size of 750 square feet.”
Next time the hotel industry blames New Yorkers for the affordable housing crisis, ask its representatives how many residential buildings will be converted into housing for visitors. Ask them what new hotel developments will include affordable housing. Ask them why they aren’t partnering with advocacy groups or the city to build new affordable housing. And most importantly, ask why the hotel industry is prosecuting ordinary New Yorkers just trying to make ends meet.
Rev. Dr. Johnnie M. Green Jr. ios Senior Pastor, Mount Neboh Baptist Church and President of MPAC.