NEW ORLEANS —
Darryl Durham remembers when the 1300 block of Columbus Street in the 7th Ward was full of families and children who would attend his youth program at nearby St. Anna’s Episcopal Church.
But those days are gone.
“It's a beautiful day out, and we see one kid over here on a bike,” Durham said as he surveyed the neighborhood. “We don't see anybody sitting on their porch. It's really not a community.”
Every home on this particular stretch of Columbus is now a short-term rental, he said.
Durham, president of the Historic Faubourg Treme' Association blames much of the change on short-term rentals that have proliferated in many of the city’s more historic neighborhoods, adding to an affordable housing crisis, city leaders say.
The future of short-term rentals is a debate the City Council will have again Thursday when it is expected to vote on a motion about laws that govern the program.
Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer authored the motion, along with councilmembers Joe Giarrusso and Jay Banks.
The biggest change would outlaw the use of whole homes for short-term rentals in residential areas.
“This has been a real big source of impeding the quality of life within our communities and making them more unaffordable and kind of forcing people out,” Palmer said.
Requirements to obtain a residential license would be:
a homestead exemption
a requirement that the owner be at the property while it’s rented
and a limit of three licenses per property
If the motion passes Thursday, the City Planning Commission would begin a new study on short-term rentals that would take about four months to complete. The council would then vote on an ordinance to pass new short-term rental laws, probably in mid-April, Palmer said.
Palmer said the changes are the start of a solution not only to issues with affordable housing but with the erasure of the culture that makes New Orleans so unique -- and the reason people want to stay in the city’s neighborhoods.
“In Treme, what we're seeing, significantly, is the whole eroding of our neighborhood fabric and the culture,” Palmer said.
Palmer said the solution begins with moving most short-term rentals out of residential areas.
“We're not saying, 'no' (to full-home short-term rentals),” Palmer said. “We're saying, 'go to the commercial areas.'”
For all the criticism that short-term rentals face, companies like Airbnb say that any change to the law would be devastating to property owners.
“These residents are small business owners who create jobs, restore blighted properties and increase overall visitor spending across New Orleans,” Airbnb said in a statement last month after the council decided to shelve the matter until this month. “We've long been committed to working with the city leaders to find fair, reasonable regulations for short-term rentals and this proposal misses the mark.”
“We're talking about residential property. It's not a business model. It's a home. And we're talking about our neighborhoods,” Palmer responded. “What about people who have lived here 25 years?”
Joyce Jackson is one of those 25-year residents in the 7th Ward, where short-term rentals dot most streets, according to a city map of licensed properties.
She said the short-term rental next to her regularly draws noisy neighbors who party late into the night.
“We tend to get terrible clients, the people that are next door,” she said. “Kind of like a frat. … They're loud, they're noisy. We've called the police a couple of times.”
Jackson said she would welcome the proposal that would require the property owner to be on site when a short-term rental is being rented.
“If the people who do Airbnb … live there, they'd be more accountable,” she said.
Durham said he and his neighbors aren’t opposed to short-term rentals. They just want some middle ground.
“We want there to be a balance of short-term properties and a balance of neighborhood residents,” he said.