By Bill Parry
Controversy continues to swirl in and around Hunter Point South Crossing, an affordable housing development in Long Island City, where two tenants were found to have listed their government subsidized apartments on Airbnb, one of them for $500 a night.
On Monday, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) announced during a rally that he is drafting legislation to establish penalties for renters who exploit their tax-subsidized unit for profit on Airbnb and other sites.
“It is unfair for New Yorkers to take advantage of their affordable housing units by trying to make a quick buck on sites like Airbnb,” Van Bramer said. “There are tens of thousands of New Yorkers in need of affordable housing. We are here today to say to Airbnb and guilty renters who are trying to make a quick fortune off of rent-stabilized apartments that you cannot continue operating illegally. If you do, we are going to find you and hold you accountable. Together with increased fines and tough enforcement we can protect the city’s precious affordable housing stock and hold Airbnb accountable for allowing illegal activity on their site.”
Van Bramer is also calling on the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement to use its resources to investigate instances of illegal hotel use in rent-regulated and rent-stabilized buildings. Related Companies, which manages the building, said it has “zero tolerance”and residents found to be in violation of the rent-stabilization law will lose their lease.
“Airbnb has no current listings in the building,” An Airbnb spokesman said. “As our recent Public Policy Compact outlined, we are eager to work with public officials in New York City to craft sensible home sharing laws that allow families to share their home.”
When Hunters Point South Crossing opened last year, a city-record of 92,700 people entered the lottery to live in one of its 925 rent-stabilized apartments. Nearly 50 people who came up short in that lottery joined Van Bramer at the rally Monday shouting “stop illegal hotels” and held signs that said “Airbnb Bad for NY” and “Your Business is a Parasite.”
“It is hard to afford to live in New York City and now that is made worse by websites like Airbnb,” Fatima Fernandez said. “I am a single mother of three beautiful children. I work very hard to make sure I can provide for my children. Aside from food on the table, nothing is more important than making sure they have a safe place to live in.”
Fernandez said she applied to get into 20 different affordable housing buildings around the city and was rejected each time. She choked back tears while speaking of the many thousands of New Yorkers who share her situation.
“So, when I heard that Airbnb was helping people turn these apartments into illegal hotel rooms and charging people $500 a night to stay over, I was angry,” Fernandez said. “Right here, we can see that in reality Airbnb is hurting working class New Yorkers.”
Anthony Novola, a resident in Hunters Point South Crossing, directed his anger not at Airbnb but at his neighbors who listed their apartments on the site.
“We all knew the rules when we moved in,” Novola said. “I don’t like it. I think they should be evicted. Better yet, they should probably lock them up. That would surely set an example so it doesn’t happen again.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr