On the heels of new legislation that will penalize anyone who advertises entire apartments on the home-sharing service Airbnb for less than thirty days at a time, the company valued at $30 billion summoned a few of its hosts and held a small protest outside of Governor Cuomo’s New York City office Wednesday morning, claiming that the governor and New York state legislators were helping to make the city’s affordable housing crisis even worse.
“I know that my guests are spending money in the city, and are helping the city’s economy,” said Catherine, an Airbnb host on the Upper West Side who did not want to divulge her last name. “But I don’t think I’m taking away from affordable housing because I own my own apartment. Personally, I would never let anyone I rented an apartment to go ahead and rent that out to anyone else through Airbnb.”
The new law imposes steep fines on anyone who lists an entire apartment on the service for less than thirty days. According to the city’s Multiple Dwelling Law, renting out an entire apartment for less than thirty days has already been illegal since 2011. The new law makes the listing of the apartment, and not just the rental of it, illegal as well. Airbnb hosts speaking at the protest were mostly homeowners who rent out a room in their home or apartment — not entire units. Still, many of the hosts reported that Airbnb had told them that Cuomo had outlawed Airbnb entirely.
Elizabeth Agee attended the rally in support of Airbnb. A single mother, she uses the income from renting out her extra rooms in Bed-Stuy to help support her two sons. She was unaware that renters had been using the service to help pay rent in apartments.
“They don’t own it? They rent it from the landlord? Why don’t they make that illegal then?” Agee asked. When informed by the Voice that this legislation did indeed make that type of listing illegal, she replied, “Good — that should be illegal. I would never let a tenant do that. That’s my insurance they’re dealing with.”
Michelle Yates, a Bed-Stuy resident for eighteen years, who has previously worked in the construction and real estate industries, is encouraged about the changes she’s seen in her neighborhood — which has seen its white population increase sevenfold.
“People are losing their homes because they pulled money out of their homes thinking it was an ATM while sitting on a high-interest mortgage. It has nothing to do with Airbnb. Nothing to do with real estate prices. I don’t believe any of that,” Yates told the Voice, in response to the counterprotesters chants that Airbnb was hurting minority communities.
Kirsten Foy, a minister and president of the Brooklyn chapter of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, spoke to the crowd in support of Airbnb, citing home-sharing as essential to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“If the law signed by Andrew Cuomo existed in the segregated South, the march on Washington would have never happened,” Foy told the crowd. “We’re here today because the evidence is clear. New York has become unaffordable for most of us. We don’t have a dispute with people who want affordable housing. We all want affordable housing.”
A few feet away from the pro-Airbnb crowd, an equal number of counterprotesters were out to voice their support of the law, claiming that it was necessary to help stem the bleeding of the city’s increasingly rare affordable housing stock.
Those chanting their support of the new legislation declined to comment to the Voice, directing questions to assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who championed the new legislation and was on hand to shout against Airbnb.
“More than 50 percent of the units rented out on Airbnb are illegal — that’s why Airbnb is freaking out,” Rosenthal told reporters. “Not because they care about New Yorkers, because this has been illegal since 2010. They’re freaking out because their bottom line has been challenged.”
While whole apartment rentals only account for 8 percent of listings in the city, those rentals account for 32 percent of all the money made by Airbnb in New York City. Airbnb generated $1 billion in revenue for its hosts in 2015.
“I’ve said to them, why don’t you not post the units that are illegal? They don’t want to comply with the law,” Rosenthal continued. “They don’t want to comply with the law. It enables thousands of units to fall off the rental market and have now been turned into hotels. Airbnb has been misleading its users about the law and they should be ashamed about that.”
Jordan Reeves spoke out against the new legislation at the rally, telling the crowd that by renting out his whole apartment when he went home to Alabama for the holidays, it helped him pay his airfare. The Williamsburg tenant later told the Voice that he wouldn’t be able to live in New York City without Airbnb.
“Pretty much everyone in my building is using Airbnb. The landlord knows this,” Reeves said. “The rents in Williamsburg are really high.”
Asked about renters caught in a feedback loop of using Airbnb to make up rent gaps, then having their rent raised because they use Airbnb, Reeves countered that “there’s always going to be people interested in sharing their space.”
“I think if you took money out of the equation it wouldn’t be an issue. It just so happens that it’s a fringe benefit for those of us sharing our homes. I think that there can be some more hurdles that we could go through. I didn’t have to do anything to create an Airbnb account. I think there are some real lives at stake.”
He added, “I know Airbnb. I’ve been a part of them for a very long time. It’s really a community. They’re interested in what they’re doing and they care about people. I also think, at the end of the day, Andrew Cuomo cares about people. Instead of banning the service or banning innovation, we need to find that middle ground.”
New York State has agreed to hold off enforcement of the new law until Airbnb’s lawsuit against the state is resolved.