THE AIRBNB AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE


I spent years dealing with needle dens, and crack houses burning on my block, bike thieves, cleaning the hood—literally picking up needles—only to have some of those very places become STRs. I miss the junkies.” – David Roe, New Orleans resident

As you can see, people have strong feelings about the proliferation of Airbnb.

For me, it began one morning while walking my antisocial, biting, lawsuit-friendly chihuahua/dachshund mix. On her best days, I have to curb her desire to attack every stranger we meet and this particular morning, we met a lot of them. Summer’s here and the Treme’s alive with workmen, cleaners, landscapers and other strangers. Like other neighborhoods, my neighborhood has become the land of the “short-term rental.” As I walk, I decide to count buildings around my block which appear to have become Airbnbs.

On my side of the street, in one block, I count 21 buildings, one of which is the small apartment complex where I reside. Out of those 21 buildings, 18 are actual houses. Out of those 18 houses, 7 of them are Airbnbs. And if you look at many of the Airbnb houses, across the yard, is another Airbnb. If you look across the street from an Airbnb, it’s another Airbnb.

I count the houses with short-term rental signs on their windows. I count only houses with these signs, but more than likely there are several that don’t have the signs up.

Not all the houses are new, but the majority of the buildings that have been built on empty lots and blighted properties, and the newly renovated have become Airbnbs.  Admittedly this isn’t a scientific poll, but it means 33.33% of houses on the block I live on just one side of the street are short-term rentals.

This is worrisome. I am afraid that the neo-gentrification by Airbnb in the Treme is going to eat me, and my apartment’s affordability, alive. Eventually, when lower income tenants are forced out of this neighborhood and others, will there be affordable housing for those of us who work and want to live here in the city?

Turns out, it could happen to you. Sydney McMath, an entertainer at Pat O’Brien’s in the French quarter, tells me her story: “I lived in a house for three years in Central City, and spent my own money repairing it, and doing stuff to it because the owner and I had planned on doing a rent-to-own. My dad died and didn’t have life insurance, so I was way behind financially as I ended up footing the bill for my dad’s cremation etc. So I couldn’t do the rent-to-own on schedule like we had planned.”

With the lease up, the owner decided to substantially raise the rent on the duplex making it impossible for tenants to pay. One tenant moved out quickly. “So I proposed to the owner, why not let me rent the one side, and on the other, it can be Airbnb, and I’ll act as property manager? I was trying to make it work.

“He didn’t want to do Airbnb at all, he said. After I moved, his website listed the property for a new eight-person Airbnb. He has another listing, too, on Airbnb and is a super host. And in the listings, he states if you need anything just let me know! I live in the neighborhood! Which is bullshit. They live in Covington.”

Nita Fairley Hemeter, musician and tour guide who lives on Carrolton, says, “My neighbor rents one of his three apartments as Airbnb.  He and his wife live in Kenner.  I have told them point blank that all the neighbors do not appreciate what he is doing and that we don’t want to live in a hotel district, we want to live in a neighborhood!  I keep track of when people show up and leave and have contacted city hall and sent information.  I talk about Airbnb when I do my tours and explain how it hurts the city and the locals being forced out of town.”

New Orleans’s city government has noted her concerns…and done absolutely nothing.

Then there’s David Roe, a musician in the Bywater. “Some days I have encounters with tourists, and, rarely, with owners.  I am watching the new one on my block–only one side is legal; both are full today.”

Supposedly, the French Quarter is off limits from Airbnb. It’s not surprising given the strictness of the Vieux Carre Commission. They are known to decide just everything from what the front of a home looks like; what can and cannot be built in a particular spot; whether a building can be demolished, or renovated; even the color of the paint.

Yet when it comes to Airbnb, according to Andi Wadworth, they’ve been unhelpful: “I live on Dumaine Street, between Bourbon and Royal. There is a house across the street from the Voodoo Museum. This house consistently has guests that stay.

“The people are almost always the same. Groups of men, 30-somethings, perhaps younger. Drunk, loud, belligerent. You know the frat boy vacation vibe. If any of the businesses say something they get more belligerent.

“These people typically stay 24, 36 hours. Sometimes 48. The people are not the same. But the vibe is always the same. In the next day or so, there will be bags and bags of trash that they don’t put in trash cans, and they don’t carry to the street, so they sit for weeks at a time.

“I have called the Vieux Carre Commission at least four times and mentioned this address. I told them I have pictures but have never heard from them. It is always a recording.”

Some people, like Wadsworth and Hemeter, do not favor Airbnb at all, but most of the people I’ve spoken to are at least in favor of partial rentals, including McMath.

“I love staying in Airbnb, so I’m not exactly hating on them. I just think it blew up so fast here, and people caught on to the fact that they could buy up house after house, and make the money. Which is true. My friend lived in Treme, and her neighborhood was trashed by Airbnb. It was no longer a neighborhood with residents. It was block after block of Airbnb.”

Joanna Dub, who describes herself as a 15-year resident of New Orleans, and a 13-year homeowner in the Ninth Ward tells me she’s, “Mostly against it for affordable housing reasons.  I’ve seen friends and neighbors pushed out of the Ninth Ward.”

But it’s what she says next that haunts me. “Will New Orleans still be New Orleans when the poor people who created the food, music, culture are displaced?”

Or as another friend told me, “Bourbon Street back in the day had live music, Dixieland bands, jazz joints, genuine soul. Now it’s frat boy Disneyland—canned music, T-shirt shops, and plastic junk. How many neighborhoods will follow in the name of a dollar?”

In the novel from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Earth is demolished to make way for a new intergalactic interstate, and one of its only humans ends up at a “restaurant at the end of the universe.” I contend you’ll be able to take an Uber there from your Airbnb.

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2 thoughts on “THE AIRBNB AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE

  1. It’s so much worse than what this article describes. My currently landlord can’t wait for me to move. He’s actually offered some of his other rental homes to get me out of the house I live in. Every house on my side of the street, is an air B and B. No more neighborhood. People afraid to speak. They are also paying above $150 a night. More expensive than a nice hotel. This is terrible for renters. Even worse if you’re poor.

    1. That’s terrible. I’m so sorry Ron. I know some people are indeed afraid to speak, but the city needs to hear these underappreciated voices. This is doubly true since the whole Entergy hired actors situation occurred.

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