November 19, 2018

Keeping our Neighborhood Safe and Affordable

There are few things more essential to stable, healthy living and a happy family than having a roof over your head. Anyone who has ever experienced or even chanced a risk at losing their home or apartment, knows what this means on an unfortunately intimate level. Here in Los Angeles, the largest Jewish community is situated just to the south of Beverly Hills, and the rental market has certainly blown up in the last few years, where it is uncommon to find a 1 bedroom apartment for less than $2000.00 a month.

For many of us in the Jewish community, making the basic ends meet every month, and paying the exorbitant rent that keeps us within the community is a major challenge. There are a number of factors that have contributed to the steep increases.

Last week I attended a hearing at City Hall to speak on one of those factors. The specific topic under debate was whether or not the Council committee should allow what has become known as “home sharing” or specifically, the “AirBnB’ing of a community” where residential property owners would be able to share their space for up to 180 days a year; essentially 6 months. Hundreds of people crowded the Council chambers and the overflow area outside. An overwhelming number of people were there to speak on behalf of renting communities, as well as some workers from the hospitality industry, which takes a direct hit when visitors turn to AirBnB instead of the traditional offerings. Hoteliers, housekeepers and maintenance workers and all the hundreds of businesses that service these businesses; everyone affected by the prospect of allowing an increase to home sharing came out to speak their piece. Others, donning matching light blue shirts, came to appeal to the Council to increase the number of days they are allowed to share their living space through AirBnb.

When it was my turn to speak, and when I spoke about how turning permanent residences into hotels for so many days a year is hurting our Jewish neighborhoods and our financial viability, I heard several people scoff. I happened to be seated amidst a sea of blue shirts- mostly homeowners that want to continue making a substantial income through AirBnB. Their appeals were emotional. It covers the mortgage, some said. I’m an actor and can’t make a living otherwise, I heard, at least a few times – made me wonder whether they were acting or really concerned for the many people that have been thrown out of their homes so that owners can rent their houses for large sums of money at the expense of so many neighborhoods.

I couldn’t help but wonder- how did these people make a living before the AirBnB app was an option? How did they afford a downpayment or the mortgage thus far, if they are so reliant on AirBnB that, as they claimed, any restrictions on the number of days allowed would devastate them? It doesn’t make much sense. I couldn’t help but wonder if more than a few of them were paid actors, attending the meeting on behalf of AirBnB, with nothing to lose.

Later in the week, I read a bulletin on a local Facebook page, alerting our Jewish community about a number of apartments, in the prime of our neighborhood, that have been converted for the sole use of AirBnB. With a weekly rate of $700.00, it has turned 1 bedroom apartments into ATM machines, at rates impossible for families that live in the neighborhood to compete. Additionally, I read that a parent walking her young child found a used needle on the grass, outside of that same building, and another that saw prostitutes leaving the building at night. The rent is already so high in our neighborhood, and these by-the-night rentals are turning our expensive neighborhood into an unsafe neighborhood.

I support people doing what they can to make a living, and I applaud the entrepreneurial strength of AirBnB, but I also expect that these systems function harmoniously with the greater needs of the community, responsibly and protective of our long-term interests. Jewish communities are one of many communities across Los Angeles that endure a direct impact of loose standards, and we should expect that Councilmembers in our areas, such as Mr. Koretz, Blumenfield, and Bonin and also other leaders representing neighborhoods that have been hit the hardest, such as Mr. Harris-Dawson, Council President Wesson and Mr. Englander, to guide the council to limit the number of days for home-sharing, and set protective standards for our community safety and security. Regulatory ordinances must include and cover primary residences, so that our family neighborhoods remain family neighborhoods. And they must include caps, that limit the number of days any residential dwelling can be used as an alternative to a hotel, far below 180 days, or half of the entire year.  

Los Angeles is a city of rich multiculturalism. Our Jewish neighborhoods, like so many neighborhoods that represent the diverse landscape of our city, deserve to be protected from the strong arm of unregulated and unreasonable profiteering.