STR fines

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On “An Open Letter to the Tales of the Cocktail® Community”

I love this balanced letter linked at the end of this post from a true New Orleans visionary asking her event visitors to use conforming guest lodging. This is a very important letter to send out to as many folks as possible.
I do believe however, (and my unscientific poll of my neighbors seems to correspond with this) that there are two versions of unregulated STR scenarios and they need to be dealt with differently: those who offer extra rooms for rent while living there and the other of absentee owners kicking out long time residents and turning their hastily purchased properties into cash cows, not really caring who their users are and how they act while they are in town.

The second STR situation needs to be done away with and the only way it can be is through detailed regulations, fines levied because the neighbors are able to register real complaints that result in action and includes penalties that jeopardize homestead exemptions.The first type should have light regulations but high fines for  anyone skirting the rules of on-site owner STRs. Looks to me that small tweaks of existing STR rules in the city can be updated to add onsite single STRS, as long as they are maxed out at a certain number of days per year.

So, as usual my post is about how I want to urge that we stop lumping in all STRs in one no-no.

It is true that most STRS are currently illegal as they are not permitted. It is not criminal, but instead, a violation of city code or of zoning, just as the illegal use of a home for a pop up snowball stand or neighborhood tire repair or those side windows where folks sell poboys would be dealt with. I think this is important as some of the conversation has become slightly overwrought and angrily denounces the neighbor who offers a single room in their home.  A couple of other examples of illegal activity commonly seen in the city that few people know about: it was illegal for fishermen to sell seafood off their truck in Orleans Parish for many, many years. Every other parish allowed it (meaning they did not pass laws against it) but Orleans went through a time when seafood houses lobbied that they should be the ones selling seafood and shrimpers standing in the hot sun should not. This ordinance was passed for food safety reasons, but hurt occasional fishers and our ability to access really fresh shrimp and bycatch. It is also true that someone growing food under a few acres in New Orleans is not allowed to sell that produce on site. It is also true that farmers market vendors are not permitted by City Hall if they do not live in the parish. In most of these cases, the city has worked out some sort of agreement to allow it, but it is still non-conforming or illegal use.

And if it seems odd to think of some of that as not allowed, I like to think it will one day to seem odd that my neighbor or friend was not allowed to let her extra room out a few times per year.

Of course, when I bring up shrimpers selling off their truck, or poboy windows as examples of illegal behavior, there are those who go positively frothy at the mouth at the comparison. I do understand that there is a much larger danger in the unchecked nature of STRs that has never been equalled with shrimpers or cooler beer sales at a second line, but I think any of these ordinances can often have unintended consequences on entrepreneurial activity and so we need to consider all of it carefully as well as the ability of our city hall to enforce what is passed.

(I’d like to comment on the argument often heard that STRs don’t pay taxes when in fact they do receive a 1099 and must pay income tax. Of course, they also pay their property tax on their property as well, so let’s just not overstate that issue. It is true they don’t pay hotel tax, but the city website seems to indicate that many smaller b&bs don’t have to pay hotel privilege or sales tax if under a certain number of rooms or without private baths. Yes those b&bs pay many fees, taxes and have other costs, but collecting added taxes for a room or two over a few nights is a nonstarter of an argument in my book.)

Another topic that also makes some look at me as if I announced a ban on go cups and/or king cake: it is that I believe while we must examine STRs openly and critically, we should also look at the effect of hotel zones too and see if we can discourage the addition of more massive development of these and instead encourage more small hotels, b&bs and boarding houses across the city, owned by locals. I get that some people think this will become a giant loophole to drive STRs in to, but I believe that incentivizing small hotels and b&bs will have the opposite effect. The massive skyscraper hotels are detrimental to neighborhood life and offer very low numbers of good jobs. I myself worked in a few of those behemoths and was glad for the work, but to do so, I went to an area devoid of street life and locals and made a very low wage.  Let’s face it: most of these large places are owned by far-off corporations that take as many opportunities to reduce their costs as they can, including low pay and few taxes and offering less for their buck.
So one reason that many of these visitors are choosing STRs is because the hotel industry has not evolved to include the type of layout or amenities that visitors increasingly want. Whether it is for pleasure or for business, people travel differently than they did two decades ago and want to be able to avail themselves of more types of experiences. More people travel with their friends or extended family and need shared space for cooking or lounging that hotels do not yet provide. Or they would rather not be at the mercy of lowest denominator tourist traps or beholden to a small group of taxi services who, if you have ever tried to register a serious complain against one, often have little regard for their customers comfort.
My point is when we get rid of the majority of STRs, an action that I fully support, we also need to reconsider what hospitality means in the 21st century and how New Orleans can offer it without losing our neighborhoods. I want more locals making a little money off tourism as long as it is managed so as not to drive our residents away.

The rental market also needs incentives to reboot itself, such as one time tax credits for adding decent long term rentals, technical assistance to homeowners to become good landlords and fair sublet regulations for students and residents who travel for part of the year. The best kind of housing advocacy is being done by folks around town like Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative. This is the statement they added today:

JPNSI is concerned that thousands of housing units are being removed from residential use, particularly in our service area of Mid-City, which has seen a jump from 73 STRs in 2015 to 276 STRs in 2016- an increase of 278%. While we spoke out about how whole-house rentals are contributing to the housing crisis and displacement of residents, we also called for a strengthening of New Orleans’ notorious weak tenant laws that make it easy for landlords to evict tenants from housing, and recommend that a percentage of the monies generated by the permitting and regulation of STRs to be directed to the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund to support the development of affordable housing.

So I vigorously applaud the above and TOTC’s statement in favor of our gorgeous Monteleones, Roosevelts and Valentino-owned small Quarter hotels, but let’s try to get some balance and fair play to those neighbors who have the ability to offer a room or in wanting to legally add a small property for visitors along the Canal Streetcar line or out by the lakefront and legislate these uses for a small responsible number.

Source: An Open Letter to the Tales of the Cocktail® Community | Tales of the Cocktail

MAC-Notes on the elephant

Excellent input from one of the city’s great clarinetists, himself a transplant albeit decades ago. So as he says (and represents) it is not that all comers are unwelcome. It is that it is vital and brave to truly comprehend what it means to support the complex dynamics of the formal and informal cultural activity that has held our place together. And that actively working for useful and manageable ordinances and zoning that discourage a “monocrop” society has to be everyone’s goal.

Let’s get serious about this damn elephant. He’s being too well-fed by our civic leadership, which continues to march toward a goal of 13 million annual visitors by 2018. Though they are beginning to listen to the bearers of their culture, they mostly try to measure our contributions in terms of “cultural economy.” And, given their attentions to the tourism lobby and neighborhood associations, it seems they still regard us more as an extension of the service industry than part of our city’s lifeblood. The resultant clashes between policy and organic culture are exacerbated by ham-handed and selective enforcement of our sound ordinance and an unwieldy process for amending the Comprehensive Zoning Order and “Plan for the 21st Century.”

Those of us who are truly committed to our community’s cultural vitality need dialogues that reflect appropriate ambivalence from all stakeholders and respect the issue’s complex dynamics.

Source: MAC-Notes: Everyone Sees the Elephant. Now What? | NolaVie – Life and Culture in New Orleans

and this truly accurate response:

I moved from Uptown in 2001 to Burgundy Street in the Marigny. My immediate neighbors consisted of a nice (African-American) family in the double on one side and a Honduran woman, Miss Consuela, who barely spoke English on the other side. Across the street was a corner bar, a Section 8 double, and a long-time resident (Caucasion) who works at a hospital. An old man on the other corner lived behind his long-closed, 1930(ish) gas station. We were a diverse bunch to be sure. But we all knew each other. We all helped each other out. We were neighbors. After the storm, the only ones of us left were us, the bar, the hospital worker and Miss Consuela. Then someone bought the double next door. They completely rennovated it, flipped it and sold it as 2 condos to some really wonderful people who live there now. The Secton 8 house was sold after a brief stint as a crack house. It too was sold and rennovated. It is now a long-term rental. An expensive one. Miss Consuela fell ill and died. Her home was sold at a tax auction to a doctor who took it down to the studs, added a camel back, renovated the entire thing and hasn’t spent a single night there. It is an illegal short-term rental. Less than 3 feet from our home. It sleeps 10. At least that is what the Airbnb ad says. Sometimes the people are very nice. We try to engage all of them. Sometimes they are gaping assholes. The group two weeks ago who were blaring bad disco music at 4:30 in the morning into the top of the line outdoor sound system come to mind. All this while the doctor takes his homestead exemption on this place. We have complained to City Hall. They don’t care. I could go on about the slumlord rental on the block that smells like ass, and rents for $1275. It was $500 pre-K and housed a loveable ‘OZ dj who can no longer afford to live here. Or the house next door to that, which housed a local band, then a young family, and finally turned Airbnb. Or the hordes of bicycle tourists who block the street like a particularly large school of minnows and shout “car!” whenever an automobile approaches, all while gawking at the neighborhood like we are in some kind of bizzaro, New Orleans, performance piece. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy that these buildings around me are being “rebuilt, renewed and restored”. I just wish we could find a balance that allows us to look toward the future without completely losing the past. Sorry this is so long. But it does feel better to write it.

My take on this take on Jane Jacobs and New Orleans

Post in The Lens by urban critic Roberta Brandes Gratz:

http://thelensnola.org/2016/04/09/what-would-jane-jacobs-make-of-our-post-katrina-transition-from-death-to-life/

 

My response:

I always appreciate Roberta’s take on things, even though I think that she (and The Lens) sometimes rely on a narrative that is preservation precious, meaning it focuses on historic corridors and “worthy” buildings over a real housing criticism. Her exultation over the neighborhood corridor boom is a bit odd when in New Orleans, neighborhood mom and pops simply never went away but instead brought back after the levee breaks whiter and trendier than before.
Maybe the real issue is the feeling I often have that too many people still have a vision in their head of a return to the halcyon days of Main Street America, circa 1950, and expect city hall to deliver us a version of that, even though our lives and shopping have changed completely. That thinking limits the potential of old corridors and gives tacit approval to keep them empty until someone can redevelop them as before rather than re-imagining storefronts as low-income rental units or as rooms for unhoused population or shared workspaces or (gasp) even green space where buildings were before.

However, Roberta was spot on in her early assessment of the new hospital zone – about it being a developers boondoggle and about offering those jokers retail leases at ground floor and not about a better hospital than Charity.  That one of its aims wasto kill the street retail of Canal Street of one type by moving it to Tulane and likely make the old street filled with very exclusive shops and hotels- that is already coming to pass.
She is right about the code busting happening at City Hall: the new CZO is a joke. A form-based approach to zoning would be much more appropriate to our city than what we got.
The argument about streetcars is sort of lame, as the Rampart line going to Poland was stymied by the railroad and not by local policy or willingness, and the lack of public transportation is a deep and long problem that is not changed by that type of investment that involves streetcars which are clearly for the visitor.

Of course I am annoyed by her ignoring the French Quarter, my neighborhood, which is still a neighborhood and pound for pound the most active, diverse and mixed use area in the city in any 24-hour period; yes we have millions of visitors in our midst, but also have a somewhat steady population since K (and the changes correlate to the Orleans Parish census), more residents than the Marigny, or Bayou St. John or some other areas. We got our problems and some of them like development (or an overemphasis on festival culture!) are getting worse like every other area, but don’t dismiss us just ‘cuz that is the “supernative” thing to do when talking about New Orleans!

Since she was a many-times return visitor who then bought a home (although I think she may have since sold it) I am surprised at her toss off of the short-term rental issue. It seems to me it requires a thoughtful approach by thinkers like her, as she must know that it has allowed many homeowners to keep their house here and to do repairs and new residents to decide where to buy, and so when used well by principal homeowners, this system can be a boon.

But let’s give her writing the credit it is due: “Jacobs did not try to dictate how things ought to be; she wasn’t prescriptive..Local wisdom, she found, is where the best ideas for change take root. They don’t come from political leaders, planning professionals, developers or credentialed experts.” This is so right and because it is what I try to do in my work, I am glad to see it written so beautifully and simply.

 

(another response I posted the same day to a VCPORA story in the Advocate on lower population in the Quarter since 2000):

First, according to the Data Center, the numerical changes in our FQ neighborhood correlate to the dip in the entire parish. Second, those changes have a lot to do with the love affair planners and neighborhood associations have with encouraging massive single home renovations over incentivizing real mixed use. And the resident and business associations allowing heavy trucks in by just paying a small fee, actively discouraging bike or scooter parking, allowing film and festival culture to take over our area constantly are part of the problem residents have to overcome. Here are some things associations can do right now to swing the pendulum the other way: work to incentivize rent controlled apartments by offering tax breaks to those homeowners who have little used property (including upper floors of commercial buildings, especially on Chartres, Decatur and Canal), walk to find and fine those who hang key boxes on their gate that indicate illegal STR units, create a citizen reporting app to allow FT residents to file complaints immediately and directly about code violations and stop focusing on tshirt shop raids and instead focus on adding amenities that residents care about.

Short-term rental (STR) rules need tweaking

 

Short-term rental public hearings continue at the city level. I just watched the city planning commission’s latest public hearings, this since the recent commission study commissioned by the city has been released.

As readers of my blog know, I am in favor of STRs being allowed, albeit with STRONG provisions including increasing public profile sites, neighbor reviews, and data sharing between sites.

After reading quickly through the long report (will read more thoroughly over the next weeks), it is clear to me that there are some flaws that need to be addressed including taxation and data sharing.

(by the way, I don’t appreciate how many residents of other neighborhoods when testifying feel the need to dismiss the French Quarter and state that it is not a neighborhood; we are and remain the classic version of the mixed-use neighborhood with residential, commercial, short-term and entertainment districts. Even the NOCVB feels the need to oversimplify the requests of visitors looking for “authentic New Orleans” and things to do outside of the FQ; let’s be clear that the Quarter is authentic New Orleans and that many of those visitors ask about other areas after they have visited previously, using the Quarter primarily.  I believe QoL enforcement is likely higher in our neighborhood by our residents who are hyper-vigilant in watching their block and larger area. So stop dismissing us as a neighborhood.)

As a matter of fact, the French Quarter knows best what STRs can do well and what they can do badly. Because of that, a few owner-occupied rentals should be allowed but fined at a high rate in the Quarter.

•As Meg Lousteau pointed out in her 2 minutes, why not require data from sharing sites instead of shrugging and saying it is impossible to regulate this industry?

•I also disagree with opponents who stated that this is a commercial use with residential impacts; I think that the best and most use of STRs is the opposite and should be regulated as such.

•If the current regulations for rentals require two months in the French Quarter and one month at a minimum elsewhere in city, then why not cap STR at that numeric level? so 6 for year in the Quarter and 12 elsewhere per rental?

•I’d suggest changing the renewals to every 18 months and not every 3 years; since this is for SHORT TERM uses, everyone should have to reconsider the use of their property every 18 months.

•I do agree with the proponent who pointed out that since the largest STR site offered to start to collect taxes on their site, we should at least consider it as the potential taxing entity, rather than immediately going to the state to increase sales tax.  That taxation plus fees in the permitting stage and in fines can assist with the functionality of this oversight; most of the taxes and fees should go to managing this set of regulations, but 10% of the fees should go back to the neighborhoods each year to be used for QoL improvements. The amount given to each neighborhood should be based on the percentage of permits it includes.

•First out of the box permitting is not the best idea; I agree with the CPC commissioner that this will benefit the biggest STRs and those most active which is not the right use.

It might be better to ask for online registration of permitting requests and spend time researching STR sites and asking for plans (how often they hope to rent, how many nights they will require, other rules of the house which will be listed on the STR sites) from each applicant which must include pictures and description of the site. The initial permits would then be offered to those who provide the most information and based on the permits available. Additionally, once the permitting begins, renewals should be partly based on the neighbors’ reviews and the online profile.

•All of the enforcement should include reviews and written online input by neighbors (that input should require leases, utility payments or primary residence property in Orleans parish to allow that input) along with a special STR commission that meets every 6 months to mediate immediate issues. Anytime a property owner is brought to the mediation process, that record should be added to the public profile of the STR.

Reviews by neighbors abutting should be included in the STR public reviews.

The online profile should be reviewed by STR staff at least once every year, with notes added to that file.

The conditional use process is probably the right process for allowing FQ STR permits except for owner-occupied rentals.

•What is termed as MG rentals of a total 30 days or of 4 rentals per year need special rules and should require re-permitting yearly.

•6 people should be allowed in any STR with 1200 sf or less, 9 people for 1201-2000 s.f. with a cap at 9 people at these rentals. 3 max for less than 600 sf. Nothing under 80 s.f. in rental space should be allowed.

•I agree with Dana Eness of Urban Conservancy that the STR parking requirements are counter to the water management goals of the city and parish.

•All STRs should be listed on sites under the formal leasee or property owner and linked to their city property tax rolls, and not allowed to be listed under other accounts.

•The online system should show a real time map of permitted STRs AND un-permitted STRs listed on online sites. That map and set of listings should be used for every permit and renewing permit.

Thank you for the CPC staff Rivers for pointing out that density is a constantly-changing reality in every neighborhood; He pointed out that density has decreased in the Marigny over the last 40 years because of duplexes and fourplexes turning back to single homes. That density has to be considered in the present day, which is often not the case with opponents arguments on STR. Density changes and with that, uses change, but simply because your residence has changed to a single-family residence does not mean the entire neighborhood has as well.

Thank you to the commissioner (chair?) for pointing out that different densities offer different privacy shields and that it may be best that the historic corridor have different requirements because of that fact.

Thank you to Commissioner Marshall who asked for causality on the assertion that the in-demand neighborhoods are going to see higher rents because of STRs, rather that in-demand neighborhoods have always had higher rents  and that the market of development has driven the skyrocketing rents (and I’ll add THAT  the lack of affordability in every neighborhood should be addressed by City Council separately and immediately and with as much attention as the STR fight has been given.)