Hundreds of New Yorkers stood on either side of City Hall gates on Tuesday morning. The crowd to the left brandished hand-written signs with words like parasite and selfish.
On the right, folks wore stickers, shirts and tote bags while holding printed posters in support of Airbnb.
A longtime target of legislators demanding regulation and transparency, the apartment sharing site Airbnb defended its practice from accusations by City Council members who accused the company of looking out for their bottom line.
“My concern is about all New Yorkers. Your concern is about your revenue,” said Manhattan Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal to a panel of Airbnb execs at a hearing on the company’s operations.
“That’s not true,” David Hantman, Airbnb’s director of global public policy, responded before asking if it was worth giving fines to New Yorkers who may be breaking the law “once in a while.”
Airbnb and its supporters spent most of the hours-long hearing in defense of the company — which was valued at $10 billion last year — as a way some New Yorkers make ends meet.
Its critics, including all the city and state lawmakers at the hearing, argued Airbnb enables illegal rentals and contributes to a lack of affordable housing.
A report last fall by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the site profited $40 million on illegal listings, and that 70 percent of the units found on Airbnb were illegal. One user managed 272 separate listings and raked in $6.8 million in revenue, the report found.
Shortly before the hearing, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer stood with protesters to accuse Airbnb of exploiting owners and renters who might unknowingly risk their home with an illegal sublet through the site.
“Everyone wins in a shared economy,” Brewer said. “With Airbnb, everyone loses.”
Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso also blasted the website and illegal management companies for profiting off of struggling communities.
In Bushwick, current Airbnb listings for 1-bedroom apartments have a median nightly cost of about $125 a night, or $3,750 a month. The most expensive listing is $235 a night, or $7,050 a month.
A December 2014 report by real estate company MNS found 1-bedrooms were renting in the neighborhood for an average $2,048 a month for a long-term lease.
“In my district there are over 2,000 listings on Airbnb,” Reynoso said. “That’s 2,000 opportunities for affordable housing for my residents.”
But Kathleen Watson said legitimate owners and renters shouldn’t be penalized by the bad acts of a few.
Watson, 69, rents out three rooms in a building she owns on St. Marks Avenue in Brooklyn through Airbnb to break even. Watson previously rented out her rooms to foreign exchange students before joining Airbnb.
“As an individual homeowner, I would think in America you could do what you want with your house,” Watson said.