Thursday, May 23, 2013

NYC Mayoral Candidates Discuss Vacation Rentals, the Ban, and Economic Development

On April 26, 2013, at the Mayoral Forum on Future of NYC’s Entrepreneurial Economy, candidates discussed a variety of issues that impact New York City's economy.  At one point the candidates were asked their opinion about vacation rentals and the local vacation rental ban.

Here is a transcript of that conversation...

Moderator: 
        Ben Smith, Editor in Chief of Buzzfeed

Participants:
        Saul Albanese, former City Council member
        Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate
        Adolfo Carrión, former Bronx Borough President
        John Liu, NYC Comptroller
        Christine Quinn, City Council Speaker
        Bill Thompson, former NYC Comptroller

Ben Smith: To bring it back to some of those companies, what Fred Wilson was talking about this morning, something a lot of tech entrepreneurs find incomprehensible- Are regulations that get in the way of, I guess Airbnb was the business he mentioned, he sort of vilified the hotel lobby, but I think actually, critically for the folks on this stage, he should probably be vilifying the hotel workers union, who is probably somebody you guys talk to more, I mean should, and I wonder in the specific case of Airbnb, should, you know should they be allowed, which is technically illegal in the city, despite being huge and despite providing a kind of affordable rental that you know you can’t get from hotel, Comptroller Liu- do you think they should be allowed to kind of dive into this market, should the government be putting up barriers?

John Liu: Should who? You’re saying…

Ben Smith: The company Airbnb- I don’t know does anybody want to jump in on this who had stronger feelings on Airbnb?

Bill de Blasio: Look I think it is not a question in that case of just access to a service I think this is a different matter when you talk about the fact that we have laws to ensure the quality of any habitation, whether it’s residential or it’s a hotel habitation, the problem with mixing the 2 in an open market is you are exposing folks who live in a building who you know it may be a rental it may be a co-op whatever it is, who live by a set of ground rules about safety and security to folks who are not part of that system and may be only passing through for a few days and that’s not what the residents of the building signed up for, and that’s the court issue.

Christine Quinn: Ben, let me just jump in here, I mean the Public Advocate [Bill de Blasio] is right, you know the issue of Airbnb isn’t really one about technology at its core, I mean we are having across this city, loss of affordable rental units to landlords who are, and this is not necessarily the folks who are on Airbnb, but this is happening simultaneously, to landlords who are converting their residential units into tourist hotels, the night of Hurricane Sandy, there was a building collapse on 8th Avenue in Chelsea, every person who was in the building that night was a tourist, all who came to NYC through one travel company, now that building wasn’t up to code, in part I think because the landlord didn’t have the same urgency because people weren’t living there, two, it was 15 or 20 units of affordable housing that were gone in Chelsea, that’s not allowed, by law you are not allowed to take rental apartments and make them hotel units, now the issue.

Ben Smith: right but the issue is, this is an incredibly popular company and service and operated globally.

Christine Quinn: Wait, wait, wait, but the issue we should take from this isn’t that laws on housing and safety get trumped by the potential of entrepreneurship , but what we do need to take from this is that we need to add tech entrepreneurs more into the conversation about government, because had Airbnb entered the conversation earlier, there might have been different relief that could be offered to them in Albany, and in fact, my office is in conversation with them now to see if there is some way to thread the needle differently for them and others, so I think what we have to take from this is not a good idea overrides fundamental laws of NY but we need to have this sector more front and center in the conversations as other stake holders have been.

Ben Smith: Mr. Carrion, I mean this isn’t, it’s not like this is a theoretical question, I mean Airbnb is all over the place, people use it all the time, I mean, can the city catch up?

Adolfo Carrión: I’m not entirely convinced it is a gigantic issue, it is an important issue though, but it speaks to something else that is happening around the world and that we have to catch up with here in NYC, my daughter is doing her Spring Semester Junior year in Barcelona, so we went to visit her, and guess what we used a service to find a room, to find an affordable room in a European city and if you’re buying hotel space in any city, any major city in the world, you know one- it’s priced very competitively, so it speaks to some larger issues, we have a very high occupancy rate or a very low vacancy rate of hotel rooms in NYC, people want to come here, I think we have to take a public policy posture, we grew to 52 million tourists last year, that industry generates 350,000 jobs, 90,000 of those jobs are in the hotel sector, that sector can continue to grow, we need to figure out ways to make NYC much more user friendly, so that people are not exploiting those opportunities to take a unit that we need for affordable housing for a NY family, and turning it into an unsafe situation and a for profit situation for them, the rules don’t even apply, obviously they are defying every rule, every law, they are making the building unsafe.

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