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LA needs to enforce restrictions on short-term rentals to alleviate housing crisis

(Daily Bruin file photo)

By Rachel Durose

Oct. 22, 2019 10:42 pm

Airbnb may be what makes UCLA students’ spring breaks affordable, but it’s also what’s making their rents the highest in the state.

UCLA’s 90024 ZIP code is the most expensive in the state of California, to no one’s surprise. Concerned residents and activist groups claim the rapid growth of short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway are contributing to increasing rent in the Westwood neighborhood and across Los Angeles.

And situated between Bel Air, Beverly Hills and the beachfront properties of Santa Monica, the fact that Westwood students are paying more than their mansion-owning neighbors isn’t just a cruel case of irony, but a flaw in the LA housing market.

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously reached the same conclusion when it voted in December to reshape the rules around short-term rental properties. LA residents are now prohibited from listing any property that is not their primary residence on these short-term rental platforms. Airbnb wrote a letter to the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, claiming it would be unable to ensure compliance to the new ordinances by the Nov. 1 deadline.

But considering the resources at Airbnb’s disposal, unwilling seems like a better term.

Private corporations are steamrolling the LA City Council, and despite public statements saying the city will begin enforcement with or without Airbnb’s cooperation, their money means council members are on a tight leash. The city council must stop giving in to lobbying from the property-hoarding hosts of LA, and start prioritizing the individuals it voted to protect in December with a strong plan to enforce regulations come Nov. 1.

And with an average monthly rent of nearly $5,000, UCLA students are the ones who will continue to pay the price for this shrinking rental market.

David Lorango, a renters representative on the Westwood Community Council, said he has lived in Westwood for nearly five years and has witnessed rising rent prices for residents, students and businesses alike.

“This continued year over year, (rent) continued to increase as units become less available, and Airbnb becomes more available – it’s this Catch-22,” Lorango said. “You really have to figure out what is good for renters in the long run and how to get more rental units that aren’t just at the mercy of Airbnb.”

But while some UCLA students are fortunate enough to scrape by each month, others could face homelessness in the current market, pushing them further away from their own campus.

Meanwhile, Airbnb is trying to extend deadlines at the expense of struggling LA residents and students – and city officials are doing nothing to stop it.

In fact, one city council member continues to accept campaign funding and city donations from Airbnb.

Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo accepted a monetary gift from Airbnb, despite his continued public investment in protesting against short-term rental regulations. This is only one gift out of the over $32,000 spent in LA by Airbnb, from political contributions to a donation for the renaming of Obama Boulevard in 2019.

Airbnb has made its mark in the short-term rental market, but its relationship with LA has been nothing if not symbiotic. As of 2016, the City of Angels had the most active Airbnb listings of any city in the United States.

Joey Lu, a second-year public affairs and sociology student, said that investing in properties just to list and redistribute them on Airbnb defeats the original purpose of utilizing the extra space in one’s primary residence.

“I’ve used Airbnb before to rent a place for my family and friends for when we go on vacations and stuff, so it’s really helpful,” Lu said. “But in LA, where housing is hard to find, I can understand why the city would have passed ordinances.”

These regulations seem more necessary than ever, especially in California, which is on the verge of a state of emergency due to the housing and homelessness crisis. Then again, this is a more systemic issue than the last few years can account for.

Jessica Bremner, a third-year doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA, has studied community development for over six years, and believes Airbnb is exploiting residents’ concerns to protect its bottom line.

“I think it stems from a larger issue around housing in the United States and globally in general, and kind of our values around housing and private property,” Bremner said. “We currently value housing essentially as a commodity, and not as a right.”

Some LA residents have voiced concerns over losing necessary income if they are unable to rent out additional spaces. Unlike students and residents being pushed out by skyrocketing prices, these people cite platforms like Airbnb as the only reason they can continue to live in LA.

But even under the ordinance, residents will still be permitted to rent out spaces in their primary residence. Therefore, the same individuals who are claiming they’ll lose their home without the additional income of being a short-term rental host would have to own more than one residence for this to be true.

With that in mind, the people this hits hardest can barely afford one property – much less two. And those that can afford the latter shouldn’t be complaining.

While they’re busy being Superhosts, almost 59,000 homeless individuals in LA are sleeping in their shadow. And those people should be the priority of city council members – not the multiproperty homeowners who profit while others suffer.

LA needs to prioritize its most vulnerable populations when it comes to housing.

Otherwise, UCLA students might have alternatives to pricey hotels on school breaks – but the cost of living near campus will make any trip unaffordable.

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Rachel Durose
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