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Hundreds Of Jersey City Residents, Elected Officials, And Housing And Social Justice Groups Rally In Front Of Rent-Controlled Building To Decry Loss Of Affordable Housing To Airbnb

Insider NJ — October 24, 2019

JERSEY CITY, NJ — Highlighting another glaring example of Jersey City losing affordable housing because of Airbnb, a group of more than 100 elected officials, the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, other housing and social justice groups, and Jersey City residents rallied Thursday morning outside a rent-controlled building where needed affordable housing units have been regularly listed full-time for short-term rentals on Airbnb.

Standing in front of 278 Barrow Street, speakers decried the conversion of Jersey City homes, including affordable housing units, into full-time hotels in traditional residential areas. To date, 2,651 Airbnb listings in Jersey City have taken away needed housing and driven up rents.

New York City-based real estate developer Michael McKay, who runs a highly organized, professional short-term rental listing business that has used the Barrow Street building to offer short-term rentals online and on the website of his company, Howard. All told, McKay's Howard appears to operate 24 listings in 11 Jersey City buildings. His company specializes in top-to-bottom operations of multiple short-term listings in New Jersey, Arizona, and Washington, DC.

Instead of providing work to local Jersey City residents uses virtual hosts living in the Philippines to deal with complaints, questions or emergencies. Howard's website appears to indicate that these "hosts" are paid just $1.75 an hour.

In the recent past, Howard has sought to vastly expand its listings in Jersey City, sending emails to real estate agents seeking "100 units in Jersey City."

"We are already facing a shortage of affordable housing in Jersey City," said Liz Fisher, a key leader with Jersey City Together's Housing Team. "To see rent-controlled housing being turned into full-time tourist rentals by outside investors is utterly unacceptable. This is just another reason why Jersey City needs to vote 'Yes' on the municipal ballot question on November 5th."

Thursday's rally took place less than two weeks before the Nov. 5 Jersey City ballot question No. 1 that would create tougher regulations on short-terms rentals offered by online platforms. Airbnb has spent millions trying to defeat the referendum.

"The aggressive misinformation campaign led by the short-term rental industry and Airbnb has fostered false public debate and renders the referendum completely illegitimate," said Beverly Brown Ruggia, Financial Justice Organizer for New Jersey Citizen Action. "Many Jersey City residents will be voting based on the misinformation instead of on the facts. The campaign has been an outrageous assault on the integrity of civic engagement and is a violation of the democratic process. We urge Airbnb and the entire short-term rental industry to come clean and admit that they have misled the public. We urge the people Jersey City to vote 'yes' to keep sensible regulations in place and to restore legitimacy to the public policy debate about short term rentals."

Among those who attended the rally were Jersey City Council Members James Solomon and Mira Prinz-Arey, both of whom sponsored the legislation cracking down on home-sharing, as well as representatives of Jersey City Together and dozens of Jersey City residents.

"Jersey City has the largest percentage of New Jerseyans renting their home, but it is harder than ever for working families to afford their rent. National data shows that if you're earning minimum wage, you'd need to work 137 hours per week - more than three full time jobs - to afford a modest, two bedroom apartment here. That's why a 'yes' vote is so important. We must make sure that rent controlled apartments stay rent controlled, and are not being leveraged for profit," said Staci Berger, President and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. "The ordinance adopted by the Jersey City officials sets fair rules, keeps homes affordable and prevents the misuse of rent controlled apartments."

"It is absolutely appalling that homes that have been designated as rent-controlled are being used as full-time hotels instead of as housing for Jersey City families," said New Jersey Working Families State Director Sue Altman. "We know Airbnb is trying to maximize its profits, but rent-controlled housing should be off-limits. Jersey City simply can't afford to allow this shadow industry to continue without basic regulations. Residents should vote 'yes' to protect their housing and neighborhoods."

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