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Airbnb Worsens City's Affordable Housing Crisis, Harlem Pols Say

By Jeff Mays | April 22, 2014 3:17pm
 Online room sharing service Airbnb is contributing to the affordable housing crisis in places like Harlem by illegally allowing landlords and entrepreneurs to rent out entire apartments that should be preserved for New Yorkers, a group of state and federal elected officials said Tuesday.
Elected Officials say Airbnb Worsens City's Affordable Housing Crisis
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HARLEM — Airbnb is contributing to the affordable housing crisis in neighborhoods like Harlem by allowing landlords and entrepreneurs to rent out apartments to tourists that should be preserved for New Yorkers, a group of elected officials said Tuesday.

As many as 40,000 city apartments are listed on the site at one time, said state Sen. Liz Kreuger, despite a 2010 state law that attempted to curtail illegal hotels and setups like Airbnb, the pols said. In Harlem, as many as 3,000 units are illegally rented, they added.

"We not only have an affordability crisis, we have an availability crisis," Assemblyman Keith Wright said while standing at Mount Morris Park West an 122nd Street. "Airbnb, quite frankly, is adding to both crises."

Airbnb is facing increasing scrutiny from state officials, including a lawsuit from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who wants to examine the company's records because he believes they are violating the city's rental laws by allowing listings for entire apartments.

Schneiderman's office filed an affidavit with the court alleging that more than two thirds of the New York City listings on the site are illegal sublets. In a blog post, David Hantman, head of global public policy for Airbnb said site plans to purge those illegal listings.

The attorney general's office and Airbnb are scheduled to be in court Tuesday.

In a statement, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said the 2010 state law that makes it illegal for people to rent out their homes for less than 30 days if they are not living in the home was "drafted too broadly" and was intended to target illegal hotels.

"The vast majority...of Airbnb hosts in New York are simply renting out the home in which they live," Papas said, adding that those people make up 87 percent of the company's hosts in the city.

In addition, Airbnb has offered to collect $21 million in hotel taxes.

The elected officials said those measures seem like a last minute attempt to silence critics.

Krueger said she doubts the company's ability to collect hotel taxes because it would put many leaseholders at a disadvantage by providing proof they're subletting their apartment, which violates many leases.

"The worst thing in the world for me is to get a call from a constituent saying 'I'm being evicted. I didn't know," Krueger said.

Airbnb says they help the city generate $768 million of economic activity, support 6,600 jobs and bring in $36 million per year in sales tax. They also claim to make the city more affordable by providing the average host New Yorker with an extra $7,500 per year in income.

Airbnb may also fill an unmet demand for short-term housing in places like Harlem. A study from the Harlem Community Development Corporation found that despite plans for two new hotels in the neighborhood that the area would remain 1,500 rooms below demand.

Krueger said that's money the city wants to capture and is working to expand the number of affordable hotel rooms.

"The good news is we are not short of tourists, but we don't need to give up our residential housing stock and cause havoc in our residential buildings to get that done," she said.

Chet Whye, head of a Harlem based advocacy group called Harlem4 has lived in the Mount Morris Park neighborhood for 16 years and said the number of tourists he sees with luggage has increased beyond the number of legal bed and breakfast establishments.

"This crackdown is needed," Whye said. "This transient population can be a detriment to the neighborhood because I see people hoarding apartments that can go to my neighbors or others who want to be a permanent part of this community."