“Hey hey, ho ho, illegal hotels have got to go!” On a rainy Wednesday afternoon at the First Street Green Cultural Park, a dedicated group of 15 or so elected officials, activists and local residents sporting “Save the Lower East Side” T-shirts gathered to protest commercially operated, short-term rentals like VRBO and Airbnb.
Following a spirited introduction from the Cooper Square Committee, members of the 43 E. 1st Street Tenants Association and Coalition Against Illegal Hotels kicked off the press conference with impassioned speeches about the impact of these rentals on their community and residences. Tenants emphasized that while they were neither anti-business nor anti-tourist, they were concerned about “quality of life issues” resulting from business practices that they deemed questionable at best.
Douglas Hudgins, a teacher in the Bronx and a resident of E. 1st Street, held a blank sign scrawled in black marker with the words “HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT.” “I’m here today because so many landlords are warehousing their apartments and renting them out as hotel-like habitats, which is killing rent-stabilization in the city.”’
In addition, the group also unveiled a 100-foot mural painted by community members to draw attention to the matter. The mural boasted a green sign with the white lettering “Welcome to HOTEL ROW.” Coyly inserted before “HOTEL” was the word “ILLEGAL” in red spray paint. Further down the mural, a person–presumably a tourist using Airbnb or a similar rental—with a dollar sign in place of a head carted off a carry-on suitcase labeled “NYC!” The words “COMMUNITY NEED OVER CORPORATE GREED” rested atop the mural. There were also instructions for residents to call 311 if they noticed suspicious activity and a laundry list of the negative impacts, such as rent hikes and the displacement of long-term residents. About three weeks beforehand, the mural was vandalized, and the tenants repainted it in a show of commitment to their activism.
The tenants also have official statistics on their side. A report issued by City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer earlier this year stated that 9.2 percent of citywide rent increases between 2009 and 2016 could be connected to the presence of Airbnb. It also noted that that lower Manhattan was home to a high concentration of the short-term rentals.
At the press conference-turned-rally, speakers voiced support for a bill introduced earlier this week by Council Member Carlina Rivera, whose district includes the East Village and the Lower East Side. The bill would put unlawful, short-term rentals and home-sharing services like Airbnb straight in the cross-hairs of the city government. The legislation would require Airbnb and similar services to provide information like the name and addresses of individual listings, as well as whether the rental constitutes a portion or the entirety of the unit. Companies that failed to comply would be fined up to a whopping $25,000 per undisclosed rental.
Rivera, who was present at the rally, said of Airbnb, “They are not good neighbors. They are not being good to the people of New York City. And I have every intention of getting this bill passed.”
In addition to Rivera, Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents much of Lower Manhattan, decried the staggering amounts of money that Airbnb made in District 1 last year. One report, published by the company’s Airbnb Citizen channel, showed that hosts had earned over $49 million in her district.
“That is the sad reality of the affordable housing crisis in New York City,” said Chin.
New York State Senator Brian Kavanagh and State Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick also lent their support to the cause along with other elected officials.
“Make no mistake: the fight for tenants’ rights in this city is a fight for the very foundation of what makes this the city that we love,” said Kavanagh to hearty applause from the crowd.