In May of 2020, the Cantrell Administration warned of a major economic shortfall in city government. The City of New Orleans maintained a hiring freeze, reduced trash pickup, and warned that some employees might be forced to retire early.
Despite this, the City of New Orleans created a new office – expanding the original deputy position vacated by Chad Dyer – called the Office of Business and External Services and hired Peter Bowen as the “founding entrepreneur” of the office.
His salary will max out at $175,000.
Even more surprisingly, Mr. Bowen’s former position was as general manager of Sonder – a short term rental giant that once boasted the most Air BnB hostings in the city, according to Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (Jane Place).
According to The Lens and the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LFHAC), in his previous capacity at Sonder, Peter Bowen was responsible for the eviction of working-class New Orleanians.
We worked closely with hospitality workers that were evicted to make way for high-end, absentee Sonder short-term rentals under Peter Bowen. https://t.co/w15ft8QrC9
— Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (@FairHousingLA) July 27, 2020
The Lens also quoted Cashauna Hill, executive director of LFHAC, on this issue. Mr. Bowen, according to Ms. Hill, “profited off of the evictions of our residents to make way for wealthy tourists.”
This decision comes at a time when 50 percent of Louisiana residents are at risk of eviction due to COVID.
— CNBC (@CNBC) July 27, 2020
Mr. Bowen’s position will involve oversight of the Department of Code Enforcement, which regulates short term rentals in the city – leading housing advocates to question the City’s commitment to fair housing.
Part of the job title, under the heading “Regulatory and Policy Reform,” includes “[a]ligning City leadership on customer values, priorities, and goals by serving as a voice of the customer.” This underscores an initiative behind the City of New Orleans in orienting local regulations to be more customer-friendly.
According to Jane Place, Sonder controls hundreds of apartments in New Orleans and “was largely responsible for the carve out that basically allowed all commercial STRs to get grandfathered in last year.”
Mr. Bowen has, in the past, expressed an anti-regulatory attitude regarding the expansion of his business. “In reality,” Mr. Bowen once said, “the question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”
Jane Place opined that it was “wild that someone can spend years fighting against local government regulations only to then land a job with local government to steer the type of policy that they undermined for years.”
Mr. Bowen’s own record seemingly stands in defiance of short term permitting regulations. In his Work NOLA resumé, Mr. Bowen claims to have created at least 400 short term rentals for the company. However, a search for short-term rental applications from the city’s database shows that Sonder has only filed 145 permit applications.
This is not the first questionable hire under the Cantrell Administration. Shortly after the election, Mayor Cantrell tapped former Police Superintendent Warren Riley to fill a high-level homeland security position. Mr. Riley was police chief after the murder of civilians committed during the wake of Hurricane Katrina and was largely suspected of turning a blind eye to their cover-ups. The Cantrell Administration was forced to rescind the offer after a public push was made against the decision.
Now, as tenant advocates are “overwhelmed” with eviction demands due to COVID-19, the city’s decision to hire a person responsible for diminishing the city’s affordable housing stock calls into question their commitment to affordable housing, as far as housing advocates are concerned.
“As the City looks to slashing budgets & services in response to the pandemic, it’s interesting to see who & what they are willing to spend public dollars on,” Jane Place said Monday on Twitter.
The City of New Orleans was not immediately available for comment on this matter.
You can read the Lens story here.