Gotham Gazette Tue, 16 Jul 2019 22:58:46 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New Study is Latest Salvo in Airbnb Lobbying Fight as Governor Weighs Bill apartment bronx airbnb story

photo: Sofie Hecht for Gotham Gazette

As Governor Andrew Cuomo weighs whether to sign it, a high-stakes fight continues over legislation to regulate Airbnb, the popular home-sharing service. Before and since the state Legislature passed the bill this Spring, the related lobbying battle has touched on various socioeconomic factors including tech entrepreneurship, the sharing economy, affordable housing, organized labor, and more.

Airbnb is now entering into the fray a new study, previewed by Gotham Gazette and to be released Friday, called “How Airbnb Can Support Low-Income Communities in NYC,” which indicates that New Yorkers in low-income neighborhoods are able to supplement their earnings in important ways as Airbnb hosts.

The report finds that Airbnb listings from low-income neighborhoods in the South Bronx, Harlem, and North-Central Brooklyn are growing at a faster rate than in the city as a whole, and that Airbnb income in these areas equates to nearly half the amount of aggregate public assistance cash directed to residents (not including non-cash support like food stamps). Company data shows “significant demand for accommodation in these neighborhoods and that home sharing is already a critical lifeline” for many residents.

The report comes as some city and state elected officials, aligned with affordable housing advocates and the major hotel workers union, organize in efforts to convince Gov. Cuomo to sign the bill that would greatly limit advertising of Airbnb rentals in New York City and argue that Airbnb rentals harm low-income New Yorkers by contributing to housing scarcity.

The legislation passed by the Legislature in June (A8704-C/S6340-A) would make it illegal to advertise entire home or entire apartmentment rentals for fewer than 30 days—a type of rental that comprises the majority of Airbnb listings in the city.

Airbnb representatives and supporters, including some elected officials, have called the bill an overreach, crippling to an essential element of the modern “sharing economy,” and the product of undue influence by special interests, like the hotel workers union.

Such short-term renting arrangements have been illegal under New York City’s multiple dwelling law since 2010, but advertising them remains legal. If the proposed bill is signed by Cuomo, posting an entire home renting arrangement for under 30 days on Airbnb could warrant a $1,000 fine for first-time offenders and up to $7,500 by the third violation. The governor has said he’s reviewing the legislation, but he has not taken a definitive position, so lobbying from both sides continues.

Anti-Airbnb efforts are being led by the “Share Better” coalition - the group has received funding from the New York Hotel and Trades Council, which represents hospitality workers who stand to gain from a more favorable climate for hotels. Efforts are being run by executives from Metropolitan Public Strategies who have connections to HTC.

One key issue for the anti-Airbnb effort and the bill before the governor is how much public pressure to put on Cuomo to sign the bill.

Those in favor of the bill argue that commercial operators abuse Airbnb to make millions from illegal short-term listings, citing a 2014 report by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that identified 72 percent of Airbnb listings in the city as being in violation of the city’s multiple dwelling law. In essence, the argument is that New Yorkers have been running illegal hotels.

While the AG’s report uses data from 2010 through 2014, which Airbnb calls significantly outdated, proponents of greater regulation say the illegal listings have grown since and have a negative impact on the city housing market, including much-needed affordable housing.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, Airbnb spokesperson Peter Schottenfels responded to those calling for the governor to sign the bill by pointing out that 96 percent of Airbnb hosts in New York only rent out one home, and that 78 percent earn “low, moderate, or middle incomes.”

“By failing to truly distinguish between commercial operators running illegal hotels and average New Yorkers who occasionally share their own homes, the 2010 law has failed to root out truly problematic actors,” Schottenfels wrote. “In fact, an estimated 9,000 New Yorkers avoided foreclosure or eviction last year because of the money [they] earned sharing their home.”

In July, 15 members of the New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus sent a letter to Cuomo, calling for “stopping the proliferation of illegal hotels that currently puts affordable housing at risk.” A spokesperson for the Caucus told Gotham Gazette that “a similar cohort” of Caucus members are involved in additional organizing efforts, which are said to include a broader group of officials.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who is part of the Progressive Caucus and has been a leading voice calling for further regulation of Airbnb, told Gotham Gazette that she wants Cuomo to sign the bill primarily to stop Airbnb from skirting the existing regulations.

“Airbnb knows that hosts break the law on their website, and yet Airbnb won’t take them off the website, and they could take them off very easily,” Rosenthal said. “They could ask, you know, ‘Are you renting your whole home or a room in your apartment?’ If the answer’s a room in your apartment, then, fine. If it’s your whole home, that’s not fine, that’s illegal.”

Rosenthal added that she and other legislators have worked with housing advocates and Share Better, who all say entire-home renting is contributing to a citywide housing shortage, citing 8,000 units that would otherwise be on the rental market.

Share Better and Metropolitan Public Strategies, a consulting and communications firm, have coordinated to publicize hotel and housing special-interest groups’ opposition to Airbnb, with the firm's Executive VP Austin Shafran acting as a spokesperson for Share Better. In the past, Metropolitan Public Strategies' CEO Neal Kwatra has served as a director for the Hotel Trades Council and as Chief of Staff to Attorney General Schneiderman before founding the firm in 2014.

In recent months both organizations have written talking points for City Council members. Rosenthal has drawn on Share Better points and worked with the coalition on an op-ed against Airbnb. "Share Better and I work together because we align on protecting affordable housing. I appreciate depth of data analysis and research they bring to the table," Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette.

Share Better also organized a campaign at the Democratic National Convention, trying to influence the public debate around regulating Airbnb, which, like other aspects the "new" economy and disruptive "innovations" like charter schools, has divided Democrats.

Airbnb warns further regulation will do more to harm homeowners than protect them, according to Schottenfels, who added that the company has already removed over 2,200 listings that it believes could affect the permanent housing market.

“They rushed to enact legislation that would fine middle class people thousands of dollars for sharing their homes occasionally,” Schottenfels of Airbnb wrote. “The new law threatens everyday New Yorkers with draconian fines, even for renting out their own home. Meanwhile, it does nothing to target commercial actors by distinguishing their activity from that of responsible home sharers.”

Now, the new report from Airbnb seems to echo a key argument that was made by Uber in its fight to fend off New York City regulations of its car-hailing service: that low-income New Yorkers, especially people of color, are benefiting from its existence. The report focuses on certain low-income communities in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx referred to as “revitalization areas”—which generate about 10 percent of total Airbnb income in the city—and highlights that revitalization area residents can increase their household income by renting out their home for three nights per month, on average.

For his part, Gov. Cuomo has not yet indicated whether he intends to sign the bill. When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the governor told Gotham Gazette that the bill “remains under review by Counsel's office."

The bill has not yet been sent to Cuomo’s desk. The Governor has until January to sign all bills passed in this year’s legislative session, but once he requests a bill from the Legislature, he has 30 days to sign it, veto it, or let it die by pocket veto.

by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

with reporting by Ben Max

Note: this article has been updated with additional comment from Council Member Rosenthal and clarification on her collaboration with Share Better.

New Study is Latest Salvo in Airbnb Lobbying Fight as Governor Weighs Bill Thu, 18 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Misguided Political Attack on Airbnb Can't Be Taken Lightly apartment sky muir

photo: Brandon Muir

New York should never have reached the point where Ashton Kutcher cares more about the economic future and personal freedom of New Yorkers than the state Legislature does.

Yet, that’s exactly where we find ourselves as the actor is one of a number of tech investors who sent a letter urging Governor Cuomo to veto a bill that would crush temporary home-sharing service Airbnb.

Lawmakers in Albany and New York City began an assault on Airbnb with a 2010 bill that placed arbitrary time limits on short-term rentals.

This year they doubled down, passing an anti-innovation bill, shoved through at the eleventh hour, that goes even further. It slams users with hefty fines for advertising Airbnb-style rentals.

Not only that, but the bill’s loose language has left the door wide open for Airbnb, and its closest competitor Homeaway, to be directly hit with penalties. A violation of federal law.

Airbnb helped 400,000 visitors bring $632 million to New York City in just one year, spanning parts of 2012 and 2013.

What’s more, 25,000 New Yorkers use Airbnb to help cope with the city’s high cost of living by earning income from extra rooms. The value to hosts totaled an impressive $420-$500 million last year, according to AirDNA and American Action Forum figures.

These numbers clearly show Airbnb is a boon to New York City.

So why does Ashton Kutcher have to beg the very politicians whose constituents are benefitting from this service to not kill the industry? Because a narrow group of special interests, like the hotel industry and their workers, are entrenched in Albany and City Hall.

They are throwing everything in the kitchen sink at Airbnb, with little concern for the facts or consequences if New York loses half a billion dollars in economic activity.
That’s why New Yorkers are hearing scare tactics like false claims that “virtual hotels” are wreaking havoc on housing costs.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James actually said that Airbnb is “precipitating a spike in homelessness, unprecedented since the Great Depression.” Really?

This hyperbole is just political hot air. Even a report from Airbnb’s arch-nemesis, the Hotel Trades Council, showed that so-called “virtual hotels” only make up 0.25 percent of the housing supply in New York City. (That’s the same group that dished out $12,000 to members of the City Council’s Housing Committee.)

You’d need a microscope to see that impact. And you’d need to be living in an alternate reality to think it’s increasing housing costs.

That’s not the only time the Airbnb opposition has ignored the facts. The Attorney General’s office found an overwhelming 94 percent of Airbnb users are not posting ads for more than two units. Another sign there is no real problem – unless you view a business innovating with a new service as a crisis.

Shielding an industry from competition should never be the goal of policymakers. That said, there may not be much reason for the hotel industry to panic.

A study on the Texas market showed “a 1 percent increase in Airbnb listings results in only a 0.05 percent decrease in hotel revenues.”

Additionally, the City saw a record 60 million visitors last year. This suggests Airbnb is combining with hotels to give travelers more options. Plus, home-sharing is actually spreading that economic activity to the outer boroughs.

Clearly, the data provides little support for outrage over Airbnb, let alone trying to undermine the business. Yet, the opposition’s risky offensive is not interested in careful consideration.

The bill they rushed through is all the evidence you need. It exposes companies to fines that would violate federal law if imposed.

In 1996, Congress saw that e-commerce was too important to be subject to the whims of state legislatures. That’s why Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects sites like Airbnb from being sued, or from shut down by state and local governments over users’ actions.

This statute continues to protect Internet entrepreneurs from litigation. It has allowed the creation of YouTube, Facebook, and many user-generated services we enjoy. Simply put, the legislature’s reckless fines go too far for federal law.

Still, New Yorkers deserve better than hoping the feds, or the Governor’s veto, will save them from their own misguided, and clearly compromised state legislators.

People need to learn more about this outrageous attack on innovation, and hold lawmakers accountable. We can do better than leaving it to Ashton Kutcher to protect our economic future.

Brandon Muir is executive director of Reclaim New York; Evan Swarztrauber is communications director for Tech Freedom. On Twitter @ReclaimNewYork and @TechFreedom.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Misguided Political Attack on Airbnb Can't Be Taken Lightly Tue, 16 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
No Surprise Uber Drivers Are Protesting taxi TLC

photo via the NYC TLC

Uber’s New York City drivers continued to rally against the company last week at City Hall — and it was no coincidence that recent reports show most Uber drivers don’t like their jobs.

In a new survey of Uber drivers published this month, less than half said they enjoy driving for Uber. Almost 40 percent of the drivers said they “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with the survey’s question about whether they were satisfied with Uber.

That survey included drivers from big cities across the country, but we know the major reason why New York Uber drivers are angry — 15 percent fare cuts that have made it impossible for them to make ends meet. Angry drivers here in the city have also called on Uber to stop taking a huge 20 to 25 percent cut of all their fares and add a tipping option to the app.

One might assume that a company that cares about its working-class drivers would take all these concerns seriously and address them immediately.

But Uber has shown its true colors by responding with a PR campaign aimed at convincing drivers that fare cuts are great and they should be happy with what they get.

That kind of callousness should offend all New Yorkers. We have all seen what it’s like to work for a rich company that cares more about the bottom line than the welfare of its workers. Uber’s disregard for its workers should also serve as an important reminder of why numerous driver protections — including strong wage protections — already exist in New York City’s taxi industry.

The fact is that industry regulations — developed over many years by government officials and medallion owners — ensure that taxi drivers never have to face the problems that are forcing Uber’s New York City drivers to protest and even go on strike.

No one can reduce a taxi driver’s fare because that is illegal. The government cannot take up to 25 percent of a taxi driver’s fares because that is illegal.

Additionally, the taxi industry encourages riders to tip generously by offering suggested tip amounts through the payment system mandated within each cab.

Taxi regulations are simple and straightforward. No one can blame Uber drivers for wanting the same protections in the workplace. But who should be blamed for the fact that those protections don’t exist?

The blame should really be shared between Uber and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission - the latter has failed to address this and many other double standards that exist between Uber and the taxi industry.

Since Uber has shown it is unwilling to respect its working-class drivers, even as they continue to protest, the TLC has a moral and legislative duty to act by imposing real regulations that create parity between Uber and the taxi industry.

The TLC was created not only to protect the general public but all of its stakeholders, and over the past several years the TLC has vastly increased driver protections throughout the industry — except when Uber is involved. Uber continues to receive a pass from the TLC in avoiding all of its regulations, including fares, accessibility, driver protections, vehicle choice, branding of cars for public protection, paying a state tax to support the MTA, surge pricing, and more.

Until the TLC creates an even playing field for drivers, the public, and the rest of the for-hire industry, Uber drivers will continue to be dissatisfied and struggle to earn the money they need to support themselves. That’s no longer a claim — it’s a fact.

And as long as Uber ignores drivers and the TLC fails to solve the problem, there is always another option for angry Uber drivers. We would be happy to have them join the taxi industry and gain the same wage protections that yellow cab drivers have enjoyed for so many years.

It looks like the door to Uber’s front office is closed to workers. Ours is open.

David Beier is the President of the Committee for Taxi Safety. On Twitter @CommTaxiSafety.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

No Surprise Uber Drivers Are Protesting Tue, 23 Feb 2016 05:00:00 +0000