Hotel-funded anti-Airbnb group making inroads at City Hall

Share Better has written op-eds for City Council members, met with de Blasio

May.May 10, 2016 11:30 AM

UPDATED, May 11 at 10:15 a.m. A powerful hotel workers’ union has created a sophisticated, well-connected lobbying effort to increase regulation on Airbnb, but it may not be enough to overcome the short-term rental giant’s popularity with users.

Share Better – funded by the 32,000-member New York Hotel Trades Council – has written talking points and op-ed articles for City Council members, and has met multiple times with Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Another hotel union group fighting to regulate Airbnb, Unite Here, has given $400,000 to the Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit tied to de Blasio, which recently shut down in the face of pressure from ethics watchdogs.

The mayor has hired several employees to serve in the Office of Special Enforcement, which polices the operation of illegal hotels through short-term rental services in the city. (Back in October, The Real Deal attempted to analyze the effect of such “commercial” listings on rents in some of the city neighborhoods where Airbnb is most popular).

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who has introduced bills to strengthen short-term rental regulation and enforcement, has also acknowledged a close working relationship with the group, calling it a “marriage of opportunity.”

In March, Rosenthal and Jumanne Williams sent a letter to more than 30 Airbnb investors telling them that city funding for inspections and evictions of illegal short-term rentals poses a threat to their investment in the company.

Airbnb has launched a well-funded and highly sophisticated lobbying effort of its own, led by ex-Clinton administration official Chris Lehane. The company has mobilized its users to argue that the service allows struggling middle-income New Yorkers to stay in their homes and make extra crash.

“I think the anti-Airbnb forces waited too long, and the Airbnb message is already in the marketplace,” NYU’s Bjorn Hanson, who studies the hospitality industry, told the Journal. “Now the hotel industry is on the defensive, and New York City is going to be one of the last places to settle this.” [WSJ]Ariel Stulberg

Correction: A prior version of this story incorrectly stated that Share Better workers were hired to serve in the Office of Special Enforcement.

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