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Hudson anti-Airbnb activist rented her home on Airbnb

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Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Carole Osterink often gets advice from her neighbors in Hudson: that a sofa has been abandoned on a damaged bridge or that a Chinese restaurant on Warren Street has closed. These tips help make up her blog, The Gossips of Rivertown, in which she covers everything from school board elections to lost dogs in great detail. But in January, something particularly juicy turned up. There was a new Hudson Airbnb listing: a three-bedroom apartment on Union Street that was $200 a night. The description was conventional: the place had a “country kitchen, a record player, and a comfortable sectional couch.” What was interesting, Osterink wrote in a post, was “that the apartment is located in a house owned by former First District Councilwoman Rebecca Wolff, the great critic of gentrification and tourism, advocate of affordable housing and architect of of the law that restricts short-term rentals in Hudson.” “Awful,” someone commented. Other: “Honestly, I don’t know how Rebecca Wolff will be able to hold her head up as she walks down Warren Street after this.”

Wolff came to Hudson in 2005. A poet and publisher, she grew up in Chelsea, then spent years touring college towns across the country before finally buying the house on Union Street. Shortly after moving in, she rented half the space to a long-term tenant at below market rate. “I understand that I’m a gentrified person,” Wolff tells me of her move to Hudson. “I’ve talked about that in any anti-gentrification conversation I’ve ever had, which is like a billion. I’m pretty obsessed with it, honestly.”

A few years after she moved in, a couple bought the house next to hers. She quickly realized that they had no plans to actually live in the place. “They bought it just for Airbnb,” she says. A rotating cast of vacationers began biking next door, leaving doors open and lights on: “It was miserable.”

When she first decided to run for the city’s common council as a politician in 2019, Wolff was already known around town as an outspoken critic of Airbnb. One person recounted that she heard her read an anti-Airbnb poem on a housing forum. She frequently posted on Facebook about how cities in Europe were effectively regulating Airbnbs and organized public forums on the subject. People described her as “unyielding” and “vehement” when it comes to short-term rentals. But while she might have been the most vocal, she was far from alone.

There are plenty of Airbnbs in Hudson; the city of just 6,000 people had 143 registered short-term rentals at the end of 2019, according to local reports. And while it’s certainly not the city’s most serious housing problem, it’s delicate. The issue of wealthy outsiders buying houses to rent to other wealthy outsiders strikes a sore spot in a city that has gentrified so rapidly that it is known as a “sixth ward.” For years, Hudson’s median rental prices have risen: from $875 for a one-bedroom apartment in March 2015 to $1,787 in 2022, according to Zumper. These changes are deeply felt by the city’s long-time black and immigrant residents. “You walk down Warren Street, at State and Columbia, and you might see a black person, that’s all. People of color are being pushed out completely,” says Tiffany Garriga, who served as Majority Leader on the city council for seven years.

But those being pushed out by a changing Hudson aren’t the only ones chafing at the proliferation of Airbnbs. Previous gentrifiers feel that these even newer gentrifiers are making the city less “cool,” as Wolff put it in a blog post. (“For me personally,” he wrote, “the city of Hudson risks being not only economically oppressive and terribly corrupted by monocultural colonialist visitation, but also just plain tacky. Shopping shopping shopping hotel hotel hotel bougie bougie bougie shit. So uncool.”) Others say it’s mostly just annoying at the day-to-day level. A local told me that she was recently leaving her house with a suitcase when she was accosted by a stranger who ran across the street to ask if she was checking out of an Airbnb: “I was like, ‘Well, not really. . It is my home.'”

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Hudson became the No. 1 metro area in the country in terms of the change in the rate of people moving there. The perception of outsiders took on a new tenor. At a council meeting, Garriga raised the issue of outsiders walking around without a mask, while Wolff accused people of “trying to enact a little vacation in our town when they’re supposed to stay home.”

All of which strengthened Wolff’s resolve to use his newly won council seat to regulate non-owner-occupied housing. Airbnbs and commitment to housing solutions. He threw himself into his work, lobbying for affordable housing projects and serving on various committees. His tone, says John Paul Kane, a local living in Hudson at the time, was very “If you’re not with me, you’re absolutely against me.” In the summer of 2020, the council debated legislation, spearheaded by Wolff and Councilor John Rosenthal, a local carpenter and screenwriter, to regulate short-term rentals. The virtual meetings put the brakes on things, but the conversation managed to incite strong reactions. “Feelings ran high and people said a lot of things,” says Rosenthal. “It took a while to pass a very simple bill.” Opponents complained that the regulations would “strangle the economy,” while supporters responded, “All you rich bastards are strangling our community.”

In the fall, the short-term rental law passed unanimously in council and was signed by the mayor later that year. It limits rentals to “three units per tax parcel” (provided residents also live there) and personal housing rentals to 60 days per year (provided owners live in Hudson for at least 50 days per year). The law itself was mild, affecting only nine existing Airbnb operators, all of whom successfully applied for a variance to continue their short-term rentals. But it also restricted future outsiders from entering and buying multiple Airbnb properties as investments, as any new Airbnb would have to comply with the restrictions. Things seemed to calm down. Then, a year later, Wolff’s Airbnb listing surfaced.

“I had a minute where I was like, Gosh, isn’t it funny that I, of all people, am listing my apartment on Airbnb?Wolff says. “But it didn’t seem like a huge hypocrisy to me.” When the union of times — a newspaper that covers Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga — reported on the controversy earlier this month, Wolff told the publication that his decision to list on Airbnb was incidental. He had decided to stay in his parents’ second home on Cape Cod to concentrate on writing and needed to find a subtenant. (Wolff wanted to point out that she didn’t have a trust fund, as many people have since accused her, and that the Cape house she’s staying in “isn’t a fabulous beach house. It’s a little house in the woods; it’s totally modest.”) When he couldn’t find a tenant quickly, he took the path of least resistance and put it on Airbnb for a while. All of which was right in his mind. As the owner of a busy Airbnb, he was following the principles of the new law, which She herself I had worked so hard to get through.

Neither of these logics sat well with Hudson residents, who had spent at least five years listening to his complaint against Airbnbs. “When he listed his own place on Airbnb, everyone saw it. He lost his credibility,” says Rich Volo, a former Airbnb alder and operator. “Now you are doing something here for your own benefit when you say you are the champion of the working class.” (Many pointed out to me that Wolff had once He posted a screenshot of a local realtor’s Instagram bio that said he owned Airbnbs and investment properties with the comment, “Look at this asshole. I’m going to rip his head off and feed it to a #lion.” He later deleted it). There was a strong sense of Schadenfreude: it seemed that many in town who felt Wolff had long judged them were excited to see her make a mistake. Others were more even-handed about the situation: “Rebecca has worked hard, but she sometimes gets in the way of her good work,” says Rosenthal.

As the housing situation worsens everywhere, the issue of short-term rentals and how to regulate them will continue to be hotly debated, often in small, understaffed towns, inevitably by political newcomers with strong opinions. “I think a lot of the conversation is so charged because there’s a really apparent housing crisis all over America: It’s hard to live on income and rent, and if you want to buy something as a first-time homebuyer, there’s nothing. to do. buy,” says Rosenthal. “And that makes it really difficult for the local government to deal with a problem that is beyond their resources and capacity.”

As for Wolff, he has some regrets. “Had I realized the kind of care, time, and energy it would have taken me to put my apartment up for sale on Airbnb, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” he says. “I feel like it’s a huge distraction from the real situation.” But above all, she feels misunderstood. “I made the personal calculation that having time to write, a luxury indeed, is a luxury that I have to some extent earned through my indisputable good deeds,” she wrote in a blog post after the incident. “Most importantly, I will explain for the 100th time that owner-occupied short-term rentals do not pose a threat to the availability of housing or the character of the city as non-occupied short-term rentals do. by their owners, and that’s why the law I helped pass doesn’t outlaw them.”

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