Monday, November 22, 2021

Nobody actually lives here

 Happy Holidays

Erath took over the business from the previous owners after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with a pledge to keep the shop open. And he kept that promise, keeping the store open for the last 16 years. However, as time progressed, Erath says that less people are walking the French Quarter.

"We're totally dependent on tourists. Over the years, fewer and fewer locals because fewer and fewer residents in the French Quarter," Erath said.

Erath's fondest memories are seeing people reminiscence when they enter the shop for a visit.

"Most gratifying thing is year after year, people coming in with their kids. We have adults in here saying they come with their grandparents," Erath said.

Erath is encouraging people if they would like a Santa's Quarters ornament to do so before Christmas before inventory runs out.   

The other night there was a forum featuring the two candidates competing in the city council runoff for  District C. This district includes Algiers, Bywater, and the French Quarter so naturally the short term rental plague is an issue.

Speaking to a crowded room at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel on St. Louis Street, the two District C candidates agreed that Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration has not adequately enforced city laws aimed at curbing the rentals and keeping noise at bearable levels in the district. 

Bridges said she would use the council's power over the city's budget to compel Cantrell to do so. Neighbors also need to bring their complaints to City Hall, she added.

"I can hold public hearings from here to Timbuktu, but unless I have the community behind me, nothing will be changed," she said.

King said he would require the city's code enforcement department to regularly update the council on its operations. He would also allocate money for more code enforcement officers. "Every month, they need to give us an update on what they are doing," he said. 

But the pair disagreed on what changes to existing laws were needed.

"I believe in a capitalistic society, and I think you should have short-term rentals in commercial areas," said King. Specifically, the retail and entertainment strip that faces the Mississippi River in the quarter would be ideal for AirBnB listings, he said. 

Even at this late stage in the process, where the damage done and the need for action are plainly evident, our politicians are capable only of maintaining the status quo or backsliding.  Neither of those answers is acceptable.

The problem now is not, as Bridges asserts, that the law is being poorly enforced. The problem is with the law itself.  We went into greater detail about this at the time the regulations were passed, but to summarize, the types of STR licenses it creates and the way those licenses are tied to zoning, actually allows..  a lot of high density short term rentals in a lot of  places a layperson might assume are "residential neighborhoods."  Also, the real heads will recall that because the City Council decided not to freeze permits for the few months time between the passage of the law and the date it went into effect, the gold rush on irrevocable permits during that time have left us with a large number of STRs that are now grandfathered in.  So any current councilmember or candidate who won't commit now to a new and stricter STR ordinance, is not serious about limiting STRs. 

That, of course, means none of them is serious about it.  Instead we have self-described believers in "a capitalistic society" like King who not only doesn't seem to know the current law already allows STRs in commercial zones but also doesn't seem to know how capitalism works.  Real estate speculators haven't been turning the Seventh Ward and Treme into blocks and blocks of de-facto hotels because they've been barred from the French Quarter. They're doing it because that's where they can get the highest return on their initial investment. That isn't going to stop unless we stop it.  But from the looks of things the next District C councilperson won't be in much of a hurry to do that. 

Update: I typed up this little blurb about District C candidates before I saw that this week's Gambit has a long feature story on the state of STR enforcement.  There are comments from current and future councilmembers as well as some people in the mayor's administration. The article looks at how other cities in the US and around the world are dealing with the problem and hints at the reasons some of those solutions might or might not apply here. Also, there is this. 

Only a few months after the new regulations went into effect, the pandemic struck New Orleans. With travel restricted amid stay-at-home orders, the bottom fell out of the STR industry around the world, making it difficult to fully understand the impact the city’s new regulations have had. Housing groups, like JPNSI, have been focused more on fighting evictions during the pandemic, but they certainly are keeping an eye on the STR issue, particularly as tourism builds back up in New Orleans.

“Through 2020, we saw a decrease in license registrations for new short-term rentals, and that’s been creeping back up through 2021,” says Russell Moran, JPNSI’s program and operations manager. “But I think one of the things that we did see is as cities were in lockdown, folks who operate short-term rentals were actually then renting those apartments to tenants and converting them to long-term tenants.”

But that trend is already reversing as Covid restrictions have eased, Moran says. 

"Sadly, now we’ve started to see in eviction court, landlords evicting tenants so they can return to short-term rentals,” Moran says. “[Landlords] aren’t outright coming to say that — we have tenants who have called us and said specifically that my landlord is putting me through the eviction process for whatever reasons but has made it clear that they’re going back to short-term rentals.”

The first of the month is coming again next week...

No comments: