New Orleans Councilman Jared Brossett is officially running to be the next clerk of the Civil District Court.I'm not sure about how the timing plays out. But I expect Brossett will take his new office shortly after the November election. After that, there will have to be another special election to fill his City Council seat. Which means there will also be a period where District D is represented by an interim appointment. Typically, the councilmembers are responsible for selecting the interim person. But the last time this came up, things got ugly and the mayor had to step in and name somebody. This council is still in its post-election unity afterglow where they like to talk about working as a team and whatnot so we're unlikely to see that happen this time around. Still, the choice of Brossett's replacement deserves attention. It could have a determining affect on the city's short term rental policy.
Brossett has been eyeing the office since shortly after Dale Atkins, the former clerk, won a seat on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in March. His plans have now been formalized, with a fundraiser for the campaign scheduled for July 10.
Just to catch up quickly on where we are with that, recall that about a month ago the council, at Kristin Palmer's urging, passed an Interim Zoning District measure which imposes a temporary moratorium on the issuance of one specific type of STR license. This would be the "Temporary STR License" that allows whole home rentals for 90 days in certain areas. The IZD isn't an immediate ban on their operation, though. Currently active Temporary licenses can remain in use until whenever each individual license expires. And even then, the "pause" as it's been described in the press is just a for-now thing until we get the result of a study due sometime in the fall.
Meanwhile the Commercial licenses are still being issued. These allow unlimited use of property as permanent hotels in areas zoned for commercial and mixed-use. That zoning terminology sounds restrictive, but actually it covers a lot of the city. So even under the terms of Palmer's IZD, the most intense kind of STR activity continues to go unchecked. Also, the big players in hospitality are starting to get into the business now.
The need for a different kind of experience is what prompted Marriott International to enter the vacation rental market dominated by Airbnb, CEO Arne Sorenson told CNBC on Monday.
Formulated with groups in mind, Marriott announced a six-month pilot program in April, in partnership with London-based home rental management company Hostmaker, which does still work with other services, including Airbnb and Home Away.
So, even though Palmer got a fair amount of credit in the media for proposing the IZD, it's not clear that's actually a step toward reining in short term rentals. In fact, it's possible that, by the time all of this has run its course, the "paused" STRs will be back in play without having missed much business. But all of this will depend on what the council decides to do once they get their new report back from the planning commission.
As I've stated previously, all of this looks suspiciously like a delay tactic. The further in time we get from last year's election cycle, the friendlier the political environment is likely to be for the pro-STR side. When politicians aren't immediately concerned with being held accountable to voters, the more likely they are to listen to friends and donors.
Already if you listen closely enough you can hear them trying to walk back the anti STR sentiment a bit. We already know LaToya likes to talk about "balance" above all else. Recently, I've heard Giarrusso and Palmer express similar sentiments regarding their empathy toward landlords and developers as well as their belief that STR revenue can fund affordable housing in other ways. At a recent Mid City Neighborhood Association meeting on the subject, Giarrusso mentioned the money STR license fees pay into the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund established by the city to subsidize developers who might build more affordable housing. However the JPNSI report found that the money collected all of last year by those fees could probably build just one house.
There are other signs that momentum is already fading. Cyndi Nguyen almost voted against Palmer's "pause" because she is worried about some landlords who she thinks are "the little guy." Jarvis Deberry recently wrote about HousingNOLA's Andreanicia Morris and her seeming fatigue with the STR issue.
Morris, executive director of the affordable housing advocacy group HousingNOLA, confesses to being exhausted with all the emphasis on Airbnb. "The problem with the short-term rental debate," she said during an interview in Mid City June 7, "is the energy it takes up." Expensive housing in New Orleans is an old problem, not a new one, Morris says, and there's a problem in talking about the more recent phenomenon of short-term rentals as if without them, things would automatically be good for renters and homebuyers.If even the housing advocates are starting to back off now, how can we expect councilmembers to stay after the STR lobby six or nine months from now? Which brings us back to Jared Brossett's decision to retire from politics and get into the business of sitting around collecting money as Clerk of Court. Up to this point, Brossett was the only member of the council with a consistent anti-STR voting record. If he's no longer around by the time the next important vote on the matter comes around, what happens then? I'm not optimistic that this is going to end well. I don't think it's going especially well now.
Oh by the way, if you want to submit comments to the City Planning Commission in writing for use in their study the deadline is September 4. In the meantime there is a public hearing coming up on July 10 where you can go yell at them in person. I don't know what the going rate is for paid actors right now but we'll try to get that sorted out in time if we can.