Housing (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
East Flatbush is a neighborhood rich with history, culture and architectural charm and it is cherished by our tight-knit community. It was only a matter of time before everyone else figured that out. We are in a period of dramatic change as developers have set their sights on our area, like they have in dozens of neighborhoods across New York, and Black and Caribbean families are being displaced. Seniors are especially being targeted by aggressive solicitors who are trying to buy their homes and many have been forced to accept in order to avoid foreclosure.
As a single mother and recent retiree, I am very familiar with these financial pressures, but I won’t let them push me out of my home. When I needed a way to supplement my retirement income so that I could afford to pay the bills and stay in the neighborhood I love, I turned to Airbnb.
Home sharing brings needed income to local residents by connecting us with folks who want to visit New York City, but cannot afford the price of hotels in Midtown Manhattan. My guests always comment on how lovely East Flatbush is and they’re excited to visit authentic local restaurants and shops. Short-term rentals lift up our entire community when visitors spend their money supporting our small businesses that wouldn’t otherwise benefit from the tourism economy, given the limited number of hotels in our area. On that matter, Airbnbs allow visitors to stay close to their East Flatbush relatives.
Of course tourism has slowed down due to COVID-19, but things are finally starting to turn around. Short-term rentals and the economic activity they generate will be even more important during our post-pandemic recovery. In East Flatbush, we lost more friends and neighbors than many other communities, and we suffered a worse economic hit. Our businesses are at risk of getting left behind like they have so many other times in the past.
Just as we’re starting to see tourism pick up again, some elected officials are trying to set us back. The City Council is considering legislation that would severely restrict what I can do in my own home. I am speaking out against this bill because it represents an unreasonable burden on New Yorkers like me and it would be incredibly harmful to our local economy. I went to City Hall this month to tell City Council Members why I’m against this bill. There are many others like me who may be afraid to speak up.
There are a number of problems with this proposal. It requires all hosts to register with the city, even if they are only renting part of their home one time. It makes an extremely confusing system even more complicated through vague language that doesn’t explain who is eligible for a permit, the availability of those permits, or even the process for obtaining a permit.
It also adds burdensome barriers including requiring sign-off from an architect or engineer before we can host guests. If someone turns to home-sharing because they can’t afford their mortgage, how are they supposed to pay for the cost of a $500-plus personal home inspection? The bill also includes massive fines of up to $15,000 for non-compliance. That is absolutely ridiculous. It would be impossible for most New Yorkers to pay that amount, and a law like this would force many people out of their homes entirely.
If tourists are ready to come back to our city we should do everything we can to encourage them. That means providing a range of options for places to stay at different price points and in different areas. Home sharing is one way we can make sure the money tourists bring makes its way out to communities like mine in the outer boroughs.
Instead of creating more obstacles, the City Council should support both New Yorkers who depend on the supplemental income from home sharing as well as the small businesses that benefit from the tourism economy. Airbnb gives me financial security and it’s good for my community. Don’t take that away.
Victoria McLeod is an Airbnb host in Brooklyn.