New York City Looks to Crack Down on Airbnb Amid Housing Crisis

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“After taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the hotel industry, we’re not surprised the City Council refused to meet with their own constituents who rely on home sharing to pay the bills and then voted to protect the profits of big hotels,” Liz DeBold Fusco, a spokeswoman for Airbnb, said in a statement, adding that the bill would violate the privacy of the sites’ users and subject them to “unchecked, aggressive harassment.”

The question of what would be best for “ordinary New Yorkers” was at the heart of the debate.

A report from the School of Urban Planning at McGill University, commissioned by the hotel workers’ union, found that nearly half of the New York City rental revenue on Airbnb was earned by 10 percent of hosts in the city, undercutting the company’s argument that regular New Yorkers benefit widely from short-term rentals.

“Occasional hosts might be the numerical majority of hosts, but they account for a surprisingly small proportion of the actual rental activity on Airbnb and earn a surprisingly small proportion of the actual revenue,” the report said.

An April report from the City Comptroller’s Office found that Airbnb was exacerbating the city’s affordable housing crisis, especially in crowded or gentrifying neighborhoods like Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Chelsea and Midtown. Over all, renters paid an additional $616 million in 2016 because of Airbnb, according to the report.

Airbnb disputed the methodology of both reports, accusing the McGill authors of having an “anti-home-sharing bias.” And on Wednesday, the day of the City Council vote, an Airbnb host sued the city, alleging retaliation for speaking out in support of home-sharing in June. Airbnb is financing the host’s suit.

City officials said the bill focused primarily on large-scale commercial landlords who were gaming the system.

“Yes, sometimes it’s the common New Yorker,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who introduced the bill. “But many times, especially in my district, these are landlords who are taking rent-regulated units out of the housing stock because they’d rather get a lot more money per night.”

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