By Mark Lipman and Greta Cobar
On April 1 over a hundred angry Venetians marched down Electric Av. to the Globe Homes and Condos (GHC) corporate headquarters to demand that the largest player in Venice for short-term vacation rentals take some accountability for running an underground hotel in our residential neighborhoods.
As a direct result of this action and the growing pressure from many communities in our area, Airbnb, within hours of the Venice protest, dropped Globe from its service along with a host of other “management companies” in Los Angeles, proving once again the power that ordinary people have when they work together as a community to bring about real change.
A coalition of Venice residents, along with the community groups Keep Neighborhoods First, Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), and Unite Here, squared off with GHC and launched a city-wide campaign to stop the short-term rentals, like Airbnb, from gutting our affordable housing.
Talking with Sebastian de Kleer, the owner and operator of GHC, he agreed wholeheartedly that “something needs to be done on a city level,” and that “short-term rentals do take away our affordable housing … but not me, it’s not my fault.” He consistently deflected any personal responsibility for the affordable housing crisis, even though his company manages over 90 units, saying things like, “I pay my employees well and give them health care,” but stopped short when confronted by the illegal nature of his enterprise and how he’s already been cited by the city for one of the illegal units he’s running on Dudley Ave., saying that he established the Los Angeles Short Term Rental Alliance to directly deal with these issues.
However, when speaking to the Director of Operations for LA-STRA, Robert St. Genis, he said, “We go into the neighborhoods and communities and help residents understand how short-term rentals work.”
“So,” the follow-up question was, “basically, you run Public Relations for Globe Homes and Condos?”
“Yes, that’s what I do … um,” was his response.
Later, when speaking with Judy Goldman, of Keep Neighborhoods First, who has been investigating short-term vacation rentals in Venice for the last three years, she had a much different story to tell. “Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway, Globe Homes and Rentals and numerous other online brokers profit when commercial ventures stockpile affordable dwellings in residential neighborhoods and convert them into de facto hotels. These practices exacerbate the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles, disrupt permanent residents’ quality of life, and pose public safety hazards for hosts, guests and neighbors.”
“We do not oppose legitimate home sharing. Rather, we aim to bring together the concerned, ignored, evicted, and deceived community members who are ready to stop commercialized short-term rental abuse,” Goldman stated.
“These guys think Venice is a money-making scheme, but Venice is a place where we have to live,” said Pamela Anderson, a long-time resident and member of POWER.
When pressed by Jataun Valentine, a three generation Venice resident whose family built their home here 99 years ago, concerned with the changes she sees happening in her neighborhood, Mr. de Kleer finally agreed to sit down with her and the community for a meeting to take place in the coming days.
“This is just the first step,” said organizers from POWER, who are working door to door in Venice on these issues. “We’re organizing with our allies around the region to build a city-wide campaign to stop the theft of our affordable housing and we’re not gonna stop until we get those affordable housing units back – every last one of them. It’s time to put our people first.”
Airbnb is a $20 billion corporation that just last year spent $100,000 lobbying city officials. Overall, it took 7000 houses and apartments off the Los Angeles market. All of its short-term vacation rentals are in violation of zoning codes, as a business cannot be legally operated in a residential neighborhood. When it does, the quality of life of the residents decreases due to noise, traffic, strangers and other common inconveniences such as bed bugs or theft. But the main culprit of short-term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods is a significant decrease in affordable housing. Us Venetians have become very familiar with that over the last few years.
As an un-regulated business, Airbnb does not have to pay taxes, follow health regulations, or be concerned with workers’ rights. The low-wage workers it employs for cleaning and management are a slap in the face to the hard-fought victories of hotel employee labor unions.
Venice Management, Inc., a provider of vacation rentals in Venice, stated that vacation rentals have a “negligible” effect on housing availability, and that the real problem is lack of new construction. The fact is that while Venice constitutes one percent of the city of Los Angeles as far as population and space, twenty percent of all construction currently taking place in Los Angeles is in Venice. That means that Venice is suffering from twenty times more construction than the rest of the city. Meanwhile we also have 12.6 percent of our homes and apartments listed on Airbnb or other similar short-term rental providers, the highest percentage in the city of Los Angeles.
On one end, we’ve got major corporations buying up entire streets and city blocks to jack up our rents and push us out of our apartments through illegal evictions, so that their high-paid employees can sit in our living rooms and homogenize our community.
On the other end, we have illegal underground hotels, like Globe Homes and Condos, operating through Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms, to literally steal our affordable housing. Because of companies like Airbnb, Venice has lost over 1,000 affordable housing units. Think about that … that’s one thousand families evicted from Venice to make way for the Big Money of short-term vacation rentals. And that ain’t right!
And if you think that’s bad enough, between all of this we have Big Developers and Real Estate Agents – like Tami Pardee – and foreign land speculators, literally bulldozing our neighborhoods to build up mansions for the super-rich.
All the while, our Councilman, Mike Bonin, sits silently complicit – DOING NOTHING – while the theft of our community takes place on his watch.
This is about our community. This is about our housing. And contrary to what they want you to believe, this has nothing to do with home owners versus renters; it has nothing to do with landlords versus tenants. This is, what it has always been, Big Money versus all of us.
So let the politicians and their Big Money buddies be put on notice. Venice is organizing to fight back – to protect our community and take back our affordable housing.
Photos by: Mark Lipman