Opinion

It’s time for New York to open its doors to home sharing

By Julie Samuels |  

June 8, 2017 |  

(Shutterstock)

The face of New York City tourism has evolved in recent years as visitors forgo Manhattan’s crowded tourist districts in favor of our dynamic boroughs. For many, a museum tucked away in Queens or a music venue off the beaten path in Brooklyn hold as much allure as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Empire State Building.

Many visitors are looking to home-sharing platforms like Airbnb to find accommodations located in the neighborhoods where they plan to spend their time. That’s not to mention all the New Yorkers who benefit from renting out their homes on those platforms and those who work for companies like Airbnb. In other words, New Yorkers of all stripes stand to benefit when we embrace new and reasonable ways of doing things.

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Some would have you believe that it’s a zero-sum game, that there’s either the old way or the new way. But that’s just not true. For instance, companies that accommodate tourists’ new preferences contribute to growth in a vital part of our city’s economy. During the past seven years, New York City’s tourism industry has experienced historic year-over-year growth, with the number of visitors exceeding 60 million for the first time in 2016. Tourists add more than $70 billion to our local economy and support the jobs of more than 350,000 New Yorkers. Even with international tourism numbers starting to soften, tourism is and will remain a giant part of New York City’s economy.

Yet some insist on criticizing visitors for looking outside of traditional hotels for accommodation. Rather than work toward common-sense regulations that would mitigate concerns surrounding affordable housing, they instead prefer unyielding opposition in an attempt to lock out home-sharing companies and force visitors back into overcrowded tourist districts.

This approach would put New York out of step not only with the preferences of consumers, but with cities around the world who have reached a compromise to address rising housing prices while also being open to innovation. In just the past six months, Amsterdam, London and Milan have all passed laws allowing Airbnb to operate in their cities as long as they comply with common-sense regulations like the ones found in recently introduced legislation from Assemblyman Joseph Lentol.

That legislation would address reasonable concerns around maintaining affordable housing, ensuring apartment buildings aren’t turned into illegal hotels as well as protect hosts, landlords and renters. It would do this by making sure hosts can only list one apartment or house at a time, preventing rentals in public housing, requiring insurance and creating a 24/7 support hotline for guests, hosts and neighbors.

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By implementing these reasonable fixes, the state would be looking at an estimated $90 million in tax revenue annually from Airbnb alone – and even more when you factor in other home-sharing websites. Not only that, but it would accommodate New Yorkers and tourists who clearly want access to home sharing.

Services like Airbnb play a large part in how cities operate today, including in New York City. In 2015, more than 1.3 million visitors stayed with hosts in New York City through home sharing websites and that figure grew to 1.5 million visitors last year.

Home sharing is thriving in cities like Paris, London and Sydney, where policymakers and stakeholders have come to the table to find workable solutions. There is no reason that New Yorkers cannot do the same.

If New York City stands essentially alone among the top global cities in opposing home sharing, we run the risk of falling behind the innovation curve and alienating visitors to our city and state. Even worse, we may do immeasurable damage to our reputation among new tech companies as an attractive and smart place to do business. Making Lentol’s bill law would ensure that does not happen.

Julie Samuels is the executive director of Tech:NYC, a nonprofit member organization that represents nearly 500 of New York City’s technology companies.

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