“Simpsons” actor Harry Shearer speaking against AirBnB & other short term rentals

HarryShearer of the Simpsons argues against AirBnB at New Orleans City Hall

A brilliant speech to a New Orleans City Council hearing on AirBnB and short term rentals in general. As Best of New Orleans reported:

Comedian and actor Harry Shearer was among the opponents speaking against short-term rentals, calling its proponents and rental owners speaking in the first half of the meeting “a parade of happy scofflaws.”

“What other business can I start in the privacy of my home?” he joked. “A large animal veterinary practice? … Are all residential neighborhoods commercial strips waiting to be disrupted?”

Shearer has involved himself in politics before and has a good sense of cities. You may remember he also made a documentary on New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina called “The Big Uneasy.”

I’ve written out the full transcript of his speech below (after the video). This topic interests me because AirBnB is significantly contributing to the Vancouver housing crisis. In a city where we already have disastrous scarcity of affordable housing, and where property speculation and an influx of global cash have been permitted (even encouraged) which has driven up rents and property values, it is now more lucrative for landlords to run AirBnBs than rent to long-term tenants. Almost all remaining rental housing is unaffordable and the vacancy rate is nonexistent. Half my friends have left town. As a result many of us are reaching zero tolerance for AirBnB and all other predatory influences on affordable rental stock. And that’s quite apart from the issue of AirBnB guests disrupting my block and my whole neighbourhood, with their 2 am arrivals and yelling up and down the street and blocking alleys with cars and so on.

European cities have been suffering from the same problem; see Europe’s crackdown on AirBnB and also Berlin bans thousands of AirBnB properties.

Congratulations to New Orleans City Council for outlawing STRs. Vancouver City Council must follow suit, though they are already making noises that suggest they won’t. We wish we had a Harry Shearer here.

AirBnB is an aggressive, predatory corporation that fights hard against local regulation, hiring locals close to political processes to make sure they are represented at City Halls (as they have just done in Canada). There will be lots of happy scofflaws and libertarian types who argue against any regulation. And perhaps STRs are less damaging in areas that don’t have a hot real estate market; but increasingly, real estate markets are generally hot, since there’s nowhere else for the 1% to put its money. Regardless there are many municipalities where AirBnB should not be allowed at all. As I said, in Vancouver STR is completely out of control. With zero vacancy, we see AirBnB listings in condo buildings that are not yet completed.

“First I want to say what a thrill it is to hear a parade of happy scofflaws. It’s inspiring.

I want to pass along some facts, at least as reported by the New York Times, of what’s happening in other cities. 55% of New York City AirBnB listings are illegal. In San Francisco after AirBnB helped craft an ordinance, which it was amenable to, the number of people who have been required as AirBnB hosts to register with the City is only 20%, that is to say that 80% remain as happy scofflaws.

AirBnB—and I’m speaking specifically in opposition to whole house sharing; I neglected to mention I live on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter and we have at least one party house on our block. It is a whole house AirBnB rental—I propose the notion that AirBnB’s business model is rampant short termism. They are sharing what they don’t own, which is a neighbourhood. And as more and more neighbours in my part of the French Quarter are leaving and being replaced by LLCs which are in the business of renting out short term, they’re destroying the very neighbourhood that they’re selling to visitors as an opportunity to visit. That’s not a long term business model.

I’m wondering what other business I can start in the privacy of my home. If these people can be part of an industry in a residential neighbourhood, can I for example open a large animal veterinary practice in my house without a license? I’d look forward to that.

And I’d ask one more question: are all residential neighborhoods just commercial strips waiting to be disrupted?

Thank you.”

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2 Responses to ““Simpsons” actor Harry Shearer speaking against AirBnB & other short term rentals”

  1. Erica Walch Says:

    I am an airbnb host in Springfield, Mass and am neither a scofflaw nor am I disrupting my neighborhood. I live in a racially diverse and economically depressed city that is not a tourist destination like Vancouver, San Francisco or NYC and my experience is quite different.

    I am alwyas home when people stay with me and they are using space in my house. Many of my guests are prospective resident-MDs in the local hospital. Others are attending business or academic converences at nearby conference venues. Some are passing through between NYC and Boston or on their way to or from VT. Most people are either trying to save money (my rate is pretty affordable) or don’t want to stay in the large chain hotels nearby and want to get to know the area. I’ve had coffee with many of them. I’ve invited some to neighborhood get-togethers. None has done any drunken carousing, although there are indeed drug and alcohol abusers who congregate in my neighborhood, but they live here or in the homeless shelter nearby. I’ve had people give me low ratings due to “location” (and they have said in the comments that the neighborhood is “sketchy” [yes, that’s a quote] — because there are non-white and poor people – so I’ve amended the description to make that clear!). I love sharing my city and my neighborhood with people. I pay taxes on the income I make from airbnb.

    As for the question of what other businesses can operate out of a home? I have had other businesses in my home — I’ve given English and Italian lessons in my home and I’ve done translating and editing there. And I’ve paid taxes on all of it. There are people who operate under the table businesses in my neighborhood (doing hair, selling food) and there are actual businessess, too — convenience stores, lawyer’s office, liquor store, churces — and I like living in a mixed-use neighborhood.

    I have stayed in airbnb houses — one time it was a non-present landlord and it was awful! – very impersonal and lonely. But all the other stays have been with people like me — they want to share their love of the place they live with others. I give people rides, show them around — and that’s what I got from my hosts, too. A real sharing/community experience.

    So let’s not tar everyone with the same brush. By all means, if people are operating a hotel that’s not a home-share, regulate them in keeping with the business they are operating. But for those of us who are opening our homes to strangers (and making extra income from it — and paying tax on it!), airbnb has been a wonderful way to let people meet each other and visit new places.

  2. LB Says:

    Erica, it might be fine in your constituency but it’s not fine here. And once you allow it at all, it is immediately abused – and very hard to regulate. It’s not even technically allowed here and it’s already rampant and causing huge trouble. That’s common in big cities which is why so many are starting to crack down on it. Look at Shearer’s figures – illegal rentals are extremely high in NYC and SF. This isn’t actually legal in Vancouver but it’s everywhere nevertheless and is having a seriously deleterious effect on vacancy rates and subsequently rental rates. No short term rental is allowed in Vancouver (under 30 days) unless you’re registered as a hotel or equivalent, but it’s happening everywhere regardless, which I’d saw counts as scofflaw. Landlords can make far more money running these AirBnB hotels than with regular tenants, so everyone’s doing it. It’s an unmitigated disaster here – making life extremely hard for anyone who doesn’t own property, and far easier and more lucrative for those who do. Meanwhile AirBnB’s corporate behaviour, lobbying, and aggressive political tactics make me trust it even less. It’s not a good corporate citizen. And as Harry said, it’s sharing something it doesn’t own: our neighbourhoods.

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