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Forum: Airbnb, affordable housing at odds

There are nearly 300 Airbnb listings in Hudson including this unit on upper Warren Street.
September 29, 2017 11:30 pm Updated: September 29, 2017 11:30 pm

Citizen action group Affordable Housing Hudson held its third public forum, “Airbnb: Who are you and what are you doing to my city?” on Thursday night.

The forum drew a large crowd at the Hudson Youth Center at 18 S. 3rd St. and featured panelists 1st Ward Alderman Michael O’Hara and Woodstock Town Supervisor Bill McKenna.

Airbnb, which launched in 2008, is an online marketplace that allows people to list and book daily, weekly and monthly accommodations across the globe.

There are nearly 300 Airbnb listings in Hudson, which include private rooms as well as entire apartments, townhouses and homes.

O’Hara said while there are positives of having Airbnb properties in a city, the short-term lodging is snatching up affordable housing units in Hudson.

“It’s an easier way for people to rent out a space for a short period of time with a lower overhead,” he said. “However, the perception from a lot of people is that there is competition between daily housing units.”

Earlier this year, Hudson instituted a lodging tax on revenues generated by short-term lodging with the goal of creating a tax base for the city that is not dependent on property owners and their tenants.

“This was the first step to understanding the pattern that’s developing in the city,” O’Hara said. “It let’s us know who is renting them, what the units are and how it will evolve as time goes on.”

O’Hara said the city is looking to develop policies that support and regulate this type of lodging.

“One thing we’re working on is to relieve on-street parking issues by enforcing that units have off-street parking, which should free up a few units that don’t have defined parking,” he said. “I’ll also be pushing for a community land trust, which is a vehicle for holding land that would separate owners of the land and building.”

O’Hara added, “I’d like to see where we could go with it to increase housing stock in the city and keep prices reasonable for those who live here.”

The average rent price in Hudson of the nearly 35 apartments listed on Trulia, a website that lists rentals and properties for sale, was $1,619. Rentals were as low as $825 for a one bedroom, one bath apartment and as high as $4,000 for a two bedroom, two bath furnished apartment.

Lifelong Hudson resident Rev. Ed Cross, who also serves as the supervisor of Hudson’s 2nd Ward, said he’s concerned about affordable housing in Hudson in the future.

“You’re gradually bumping my people, poor people, out of here and we won’t be here in five years,” he said to the audience. “I have grand children and great grandchildren here and I expect to live in one of their houses when I’m 90, but the way it stands, it won’t be that way.”

In Woodstock, McKenna said there are 800 listings in his community on Airbnb. He said issues surrounding Airbnb properties include garbage, traffic and noise.

“We’re on the cusp of drafting a comprehensive plan that would look into doing some type of permitting,” he said. “It would likely include parking and garbage requirements, having a local key holder, regulations on noise and partying and instituting a fee schedule, which would likely be on a sliding scale based on the number of rooms.”

McKenna added that the town has been greatly impacted by Airbnb.

“We’ve seen an influx of young couples that come to Woodstock to buy a home and we have some real estate brokers who will show a home that’s out of their budget and say ‘you can put it on Airbnb and make up the difference,’” he said. “What scares me about that is if the economy turns around and drops, these young people are counting on that income to pay their mortgage and we’ll see a flood in the market of homes people can’t afford to keep.”

Forum moderator Michael Chameides, treasurer of the Hudson City Democrats and candidate for 3rd Ward supervisor, said the city needs to come up with regulations that encourage developments while protecting people’s interests.

“This issue cuts deep for people who have lived here all their lives and are struggling to find housing for themselves and their families and can’t afford to live here,” he said. “There are also people who have invested time, money and energy into creating properties to better the city and use Airbnb as part of their life.”

Hudson Airbnb host Valerie Shaff said she purchased a home on State Street in 2004 and resides in Germantown.

“I don’t believe Airbnb is the enemy,” she said. “The people who come and stay here are coming with the thought of maybe moving here, raising a family here or are here for a wedding.”

“It’s important not to vilify the accommodations, because they aren’t the problem, but part of the growth of Hudson,” Shaff said.

Rebecca Wolff from Affordable Housing Hudson said she felt both frustrated and hopeful when the forum concluded.

“I knew it would be a heated conversation,” she said. “I could feel the tension because it’s about people’s ability to capitalize on investments, which they take very seriously, so it comes down to people’s willingness to stop making money so people can afford an apartment.”

Wolff added that the group would likely organize another forum.

“The next step is to continue to work internally with city government,” she said. “We also need to keep the conversation going.”