Teachers, residents for and against Airbnb, take over Jersey City Council meeting

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The Jersey City Council chambers overflowed with residents in favor of, as well as against, Airbnb rentals, along with local teachers who told their elected officials that they need to allocate money to the school district to prevent impending layoffs.

One item on the agenda up for a second reading was an ordinance that could possibly restrict long-term rental units from being used as short-term rentals by Airbnb homeowners.

During the public portion, numerous Airbnb hosts pleaded with the council to table the ordinance because any amendments put on the books could potentially cause thousands of Airbnb hosts to go out of business.

Some of them explained how being Airbnb hosts has enabled them to earn not only additional income, but to make a full-time living out of renting rooms and space to guests, as well as the ability to pay off their mortgages from the income they earn.

For example, Jersey City resident Helen Schmidt explained what’s it like being an Airbnb host, highlighting the positive benefits of short-term rentals.

“We became first-time homeowners in the Heights over a year ago. So we decided to take on a big mortgage and bought a three-family house. We did that because we plan on having kids who can stay in one of the units, and we would love the flexibility to have our family visit, and so it gives us the flexibility while still getting some rental income to supplement our mortgage,” Schmidt began.

“So we decided we would put one unit up for long-term rent, and try Airbnb on the other unit because it was fully legal. But our long-term rental stayed vacant for several months, so it was very discouraging. So we had to quickly turn it around and make it an Airbnb, and this has been a great blessing for our family, we’ve been able to contribute to our mortgage, and contribute to our future son’s eduction.”

She stressed that it’s very hard work running Airbnb units to make sure that guests are satisfied or else they’ll get negative reviews, and that’s why she took issue with ads being promoted on social media by the politically powerful union, the Hotel Trades Council, who see the proliferation of Airbnb units as a threat to their members who work in many of the region’s leading hotels.

“They say that we’re commercial operators, but that’s a minority. Being an Airbnb host is a lot of work. We’re doing this to save for our families, we’re running two units, we’re exhausted and tired. But we do this because we’re proud of our property, we take care of it inside and out, and we actually enjoy meeting our guests,” Schmid said.

Ultimately, the council tabled the second reading unanimously, with the expectation to vote on it at its June 12 meeting.

In explaining his vote, Council President Rolando Lavarro also said that the Council will be establishing an ad-hoc committee consisting of himself, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Michael Yun and Ward E Councilman James Solomon, to incorporate some of the ideas and arguments from both sides of the debate on short-term rentals before voting on the ordinance in June.

“I legalized this [Airbnb short-term rentals] in 2015 with the administration, we created a cottage industry here in Jersey City that a lot of people who are here tonight created their livelihood around this cottage industry, and for that we are wanting to take a little bit of time to deliberate and being able to to see what the impacts are here,” said Lavarro.

Following the discussion of short-term rentals, an executive officer of the Jersey City Education Association, Colleen Kelleher, and its president, Ron Greco, implored the council to pony up dollars from the city budget to stave off over 400 impending layoffs of teachers this September, many of whom, approximately 270, received lay-off notices this week.

Greco and Kelleher believe that the city can tap into tax abatements that the city has been providing to developers to incentivize development, especially along the waterfront, as well as the the recent settlement of approximately $50 million with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey over properties that the city claimed in a lawsuit the bi-state agency wasn’t paying its yearly taxes.

“Absolutely,” Greco began in an interview.

“Because in many communities, the payment-in-lieu of taxes [PILOTS] that are given out, the City Councils dedicate a portion of that to the public school system. We’re faced with over 400 layoffs of just classroom teachers, we haven’t even touched the teacher aides and secretaries yet. There’s a crisis here, whether the Mayor or the City Council wants to acknowledge it,” he began.

“A council member was just out in the hall telling parents ‘you’re in the wrong forum, you need to go the Board of Education.’ These people have just as much responsibility as the BOE in funding the schools. This is a public school system, they need to fund it properly,” said Greco.

Last week Greco stood next to BOE President Sudhan Thomas when Thomas announced a new lawsuit against the state to restore, at least this year, $27 million in state aid cuts.

We asked Greco that by asking the council to provide money to the district, is that an indicator he is not confident in the lawsuit to try to reverse the cuts, and by consequence, the layoffs.

“We’ve been on the city council for quite a while, but we see that we have to ramp up our efforts. I spoke to the mayor quite a while ago, and I know that the BOE would like to have discussions with the council. But the lawsuit was also in addition to after we realized the impact that will be inflicted by this five-year, long-term deep cuts from the state.”

We live streamed a portion of the public speaking on short-term rentals and teacher layoffs to our Facebook Page, which can be viewed below: