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Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

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May 22, 2015

Airbn-Beffudled

By David Reiss

ox

MainStreet quoted me in Is Airbnb Making It Impossible For You To Rent That Dream Apartment?. It opens,

The accusation is blunt: Airbnb, say some, is sucking up apartment units that otherwise would be available to renters. In San Francisco, that claim is spoken so loudly – by so many politicians – a city agency just filed a report on it.

Similar claims are heard in Santa Monica, Calif., in Manhattan and some Brooklyn neighborhoods, a few areas in Seattle and also a sliver of Boston and adjacent Cambridge. True? False? Is that Airbnb host putting vacationers up in what should be your prime Greenwich Village flat?

Some think such accusations are just distracting from the main issue at hand: housing inventory shortages.

“It’s a diversion,” says Richard Green, the Lusk Chair in Real Estate at the University of Southern California. “Politicians are not dealing with what they should be dealing with to address housing unavailability so they are singling out Airbnb.” His nuanced point is that in most markets the number of Airbnb units is trivial and so whatever impact it has on apartment availability is minimal.

The San Francisco government report does not disagree: “the Budget and Legislative Analyst estimates that between 925 and 1,960 units citywide have been removed from the housing market from just Airbnb listings. At between 0.4 and 0.8%, this number of units is a small percentage of the 244,012 housing units that comprised the rental market in 2013.”

Read the San Francisco report. It said that under 1% of apartments have been removed from rental channels due to Airbnb. How important is that? What does it mean?

What is unique about San Francisco – also Manhattan and a few other places – is that apartment vacancy rates are fiercely low. In a recent survey, it stood at 4.1% in San Francisco and that means this is the type of town where would-be renters get in line early whenever a decent unit goes up for rent. Add back in those Airbnb units and, yes, that might be a happy day for some tenants. But not many.

The other unique feature: San Francisco, Manhattan and a very few other places attract large tourist populations, especially Millennials, and that has been a sweet spot for sharing economy rentals. Take tight supply, add in high hotel prices and a flood of tourists and there is the recipe for cries about any apartment that seems to be lost to the longterm tenant market.

In a lot of markets – from Phoenix to Houston – vacancy rates are already high, tourist numbers are low and nobody really thinks Airbnb is having any impact on local rentals.

But in some cities it just may be. Harry Campbell, TheRideShareGuy.com, said of Airbnb: it is “having a huge impact in coastal communities [of Los Angeles] like Venice/Santa Monica where mid level chain hotels can run upwards of $300-$400 a night. It just doesn’t make much sense for landlords to rent their apartments out traditionally when the profits are so much higher using Airbnb.” (Santa Monica, in mid May, enacted legislation banning short-term rentals such as Airbnb. Nobody knows how it will be enforced or if it will withstand legal challenges.)

At least one Portland, Ore. Airbnb host emailed Mainstreet to admit that two apartment units that had been rented to regular tenants are no longer. Explained that host: “From the point of view of a former landlord, the Airbnb experience is far superior. Airbnb guests are, on the whole, responsible, considerate and never late with rent since this is collected in advance by Airbnb.”

Either way, however, the calculus is not one-sided, not even in those premium markets like San Francisco. Green added: “You could also say that Airbnb is increasing the stock of affordable housing units by letting some keep their apartments by occasionally renting them out. It’s entirely possible Airbnb produces as many units as it loses.”

In that regard, listen to Kip (last name withheld) — a self-described 60+ woman living alone in Beverly Hills in a two bedroom apartment. A few times a month, said Kip, she rents it out through Airbnb. “That helps me with the cost of living,” she said. She stressed she would never take in a roommate but is happy with having guests a few nights a month. “It’s helped me boost my flagging income,” she said.

Christopher Nulty, an Airbnb spokesperson, had fighting words in response to the San Francisco report in particular.

“This comes from the same people who want to ban new housing in the Mission [a San Francisco neighborhood], ban home sharing and make San Francisco more expensive for middle class families,” he said. “Home sharing is an economic lifeline for thousands of San Franciscans who depend on the extra income to stay in their homes.”

So, who’s telling the truth?

“When evaluating claims about Airbnb, it is important to keep in mind whose ox is being gored,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. His point: In some cases, maybe Airbnb brings some harm. In other cases, it does good. Matters just aren’t simple or black and white.

May 22, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

May 22, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 21, 2015

AG Lynch on Wall Street

By David Reiss

Loretta_Lynch_US_Attorney

Institutional Investor quoted me in Will New Attorney General Loretta Lynch Shake up Wall Street? It opens,

Those unhappy with the lack of personal accountability for the 2008–’09 financial crisis are running out of time to see justice served: In the U.S., the statute of limitations for many bank-related criminal charges is ten years. But the recent appointment of Loretta Lynch as the first black woman to the post of attorney general could present a window of opportunity.

Given mounting public frustration over the failure to punish financial executives who helped push the world to the brink of another Great Depression, Lynch may be well positioned to act where her predecessor, Eric Holder, was unsuccessful. The U.S. Department of Justice has often talked up its efforts to hold individuals responsible for crimes they may have committed, but there hasn’t been much progress. Last year, however, saw an uptick in the size of bank settlements related to the crash, including a $16.65 billion deal with Bank of America Corp. and a $7 billion agreement with Citigroup.

Some industry observers believe Lynch, who turns 56 on Thursday, could use this momentum to target people. “If she does anything differently [than Holder did], she may push her folks to try to make those cases against individuals higher up the corporate ladder,” says Glen Kopp, former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and a New York–based partner in the white-collar practice at law firm Bracewell & Giuliani.

Lynch’s critics have griped that she may be not be strict enough with Wall Street. They point to her 1980s stint with law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel, which has counted among its clients BofA, Credit Suisse Group and HSBC Holdings, and to a spell early last decade at Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells), where she practiced white -collar criminal defense.

Detractors say both positions, as well as her tenure at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2003 to 2005, have compromised her ability to prosecute big banks by establishing relationships that she may not wish to jeopardize as attorney general. During Lynch’s lengthy confirmation process, Republicans criticized her for being too soft on HSBC in a 2012 settlement; the British bank agreed to pay $1.92 billion in a money-laundering case after New York and federal authorities decided that criminal charges might bring down the institution.

But many in the legal community believe the more likely outcome will be somewhere in the middle.

“The financial industry will be dealing with an extremely well-informed AG who will seek to balance the competing concerns that arise when investigating and prosecuting large enterprises like those that dominate Wall Street,” says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School with expertise in property, mortgage lending and consumer financial services matters.

May 21, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

By Serenna McCloud

  • Federal Reserve Bank of New York Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit finds that delinquencies, foreclosures, and bankruptcies improve as household debt stays flat.
  • NYU Furman Center Report: Building New or Preserving Oldfinds that in neighborhoods with high rents, leasing underdeveloped NYCHA-owned land for private development could generate either substantial annual lease payments for NYCHA or significant numbers of affordable units. This  would help the city meet two of its housing goals: creating new units of affordable housing without additional subsidy, and generating new revenue to help fill NYCHA’s budget shortfall.
  • National Association of Realtors Summary of April 2015 Existing Homes Sales Statistics details the 3.3% slowdown by region and other factors.
  • National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach 2015 details the affordability of rental units nationwide. According to the study, the 2015 National Housing Wage is $19.35, meaning that someone working full-time, 40 hours a week, would need to earn $19.35 per hour in order to afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit while spending no more than 30% of household income on housing costs.
    • In 13 states and the District of Columbia, the Housing Wage is more than $20 per hour.
    • The 2015 Housing Wage is now 2.7 times the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
    • There is no state in the country where someone earning either the state or federal minimum wage can afford even a one-bedroom apartment renting at the HUD Fair Market Rent (FMR).

May 21, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 20, 2015

Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

By David Reiss

Forest Hills RR Station

Enterprise Community Partners has issued a white paper, Promoting Opportunity Through Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD): Making the Case. The Executive Summary opens,

Investments in transportation infrastructure can catalyze regional growth and improve mobility. Given limited public funds, public officials and transportation planners have increasingly recognized the benefit of coordinating transportation investments with land use, housing and economic development investments and policies. In particular, there has been a specific emphasis on facilitating transit-oriented development (TOD) – a growth model characterized by compact development, a mix of land uses, and multi-modal transportation connectivity. When properly planned, such development can support transit ridership and revenues, boost property values and enhance economic competitiveness.

While TOD can take many forms, for a variety of reasons there has been increased demand for transit-oriented neighborhoods with a critical mass of population, neighborhood-serving retail establishments, employment opportunities and/or economic activity. Some prefer these transit-oriented, amenity-rich neighborhoods based on lifestyle preferences. However, for others – particularly people with lower incomes or for whom driving is difficult or impossible – the accessibility that TOD offers is crucial to reaching jobs and life’s other necessities in an efficient and economical manner.

Unfortunately, a number of factors – most notably the prevalence of zoning codes that separate residential from commercial and retail uses – have limited the number of compact, mixed-use, multi-modal neighborhoods. To the extent that demand for housing in such neighborhoods – as a result of either choice and/or necessity – remains strong, scarcity of housing in these neighborhoods can increase property values. Significant price increases can lead to additional cost burdens, potential displacement and/or barriers to entry for low- and moderateincome households. If these households are displaced it can also reduce likely riders’ access to transit and limit employees’ and customers’ access to businesses.

One solution to these challenges is equitable TOD (eTOD), which is well-planned and implemented development near transit that accounts for the needs of low and moderate-income people, largely through the preservation and creation of affordable housing. eTOD can expand mobility options, lower commuting expenses and enhance access to employment, child care, schools, stores and critical services. This development model also conveys ancillary benefits to the broader community, the economy, the environment and the transportation system. (5-6)

This is all to the good, but the report does not struggle with a fundamental problem: local governments do not want to build housing for low- and moderate-income households because they tend to be a net drain on municipal budgets a opposed to the typical household living in a single-family home. Even local politicians who are sympathetic to eTOD will face many roadblocks from their constituents if they try to make it happen. Enterprise promises a second report that will address barriers to eTOD. Hopefully, it will address this issue head on.

May 20, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

May 20, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 19, 2015

HAMP-ered Foreclosure Prevention

By David Reiss

FDRfiresidechat2

The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) released a report, Treasury’s Opportunity to Increase HAMP’s Effectiveness by Reaching More Homeowners in States Underserved by HAMP. The Introduction opens,

TARP’s signature foreclosure prevention program, the Home Affordable Modification Program (“HAMP”), has struggled to reach the expected number of homeowners Treasury envisioned for the program. According to Treasury, TARP’s housing support programs were intended to “help bring relief to responsible homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments, while preventing neighborhoods and communities from suffering the negative spillover effects of foreclosure.” Treasury announced that HAMP itself aimed “to help as many as three to four million financially struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure by modifying loans to a level that is affordable for borrowers now and sustainable over the long term,.” The only long-term sustainable help provided through HAMP is a permanent mortgage modification, which become effective after the homeowner successfully completes a trial period plan. Through December 31, 2014, according to Treasury data, 1,514,687 homeowners have been able to get into a more affordable permanent HAMP modification (of which, 452,322 homeowners, or 29%, subsequently redefaulted on their HAMP modifications), while there have been 6,165,544 foreclosures nationwide over the same period based on CoreLogic data.” (1, footnotes omitted)

There is a lot of soul searching in this report about why HAMP has been so ineffective and the report offers tweaks to the program to improve it. But perhaps the problem is structural — a program like HAMP was never really in a position to make a bigger impact on the foreclosure crisis.

When compared to the federal government’s intervention during the Great Depression, HAMP seems too modest. President Roosevelt’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation bought out mortgages from banks in bulk and then refinanced them on more attractive terms than the private sector offered. HAMP, on the other hand, has trouble getting homeowners to apply to the program in the first place.

Bottom line: HAMP is too retail and what we needed and need is something that could be done wholesale.

 

May 19, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments