The controversial Airbnb bill yet to be signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is drawing criticism from African American users of the popular homesharing website. In an effort to prevent illegal hotels, the bill, passed by the state legislature this summer, bans users from listing rentals for entire apartments that last less than 30 days, but only in buildings with three or more units. The bill also establishes fines of up to $7,500 for violators.
The bill comes at a time when Airbnb and the sharing economy are being hotly debated in New York City, where rates of homelessness have been rising and affordable housing stock has been in high demand. While some opponents of Airbnb have lauded the legislation, others say that the bill is fundamentally flawed—it doesn’t recognize how Airbnb benefits minority communities in New York City, some of which are among the most popular destinations on the website.
“Really, what this is about is not Airbnb. It’s about whether our small homeowners have the ability to do short-term rentals,” Tremaine Wright, a candidate for State Assembly District 56 in central Brooklyn, said in a phone interview.
Wright said that many residents of her district, which includes the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, use Airbnb to supplement their regular income. Limiting short-term rentals of entire apartments also limits the economic opportunities of everyday New Yorkers, she said.
“People use their homes for various functions and purposes, and we need to be able to address what’s happening here without lumping everyone together,” she said.
According to data recently released by Airbnb, there was a total of 1,945 listings in the neighborhoods of Bedford, Stuyvesant Heights and Crown Heights North posted on the website from August 2015 to August 2016. The neighborhoods are among the most popular Airbnb destinations in the city.
Real estate broker Al Florant, who owns a two-family Brooklyn brownstone that he has rented on Airbnb for the past year, feels that the opposition to Airbnb is influenced by subconscious racism. Lawmakers vilify Airbnb because they don’t appreciate the value that the website can add to majority African American communities like Bedford-Stuyvesant, he said.
“Here’s an opportunity for middle income blacks to take advantage of homesharing, to create additional revenue, whether it’s to help and pay their mortgage or send their kids to college,” he said in a phone interview.
Florant, who is organizing a town hall so Airbnb users and local residents can learn about the legality of homesharing, said that his community’s reaction to Airbnb guests has been almost entirely positive. “You won’t find someone who has an issue with it unless they have a tie to the hotel industry,” he said.
Michael Lambert, executive director of the Bed-Stuy Gateway Business Improvement District, also thinks the bill could damage local economic activity because it doesn’t acknowledge the positive impact that short-term Airbnb guests can have on a neighborhood. “I think that having folks able to rent short-term, that’s only a potential benefit for the local business community, because you’re still providing a potential customer base,” he said in a phone interview.
Lambert said that local businesses have reported increased foot traffic because of Airbnb guests. “I haven’t really heard anyone formally say no, this is bad for the neighborhood,” he said.