De Blasio opposes Airbnb, Quinn tries to ‘thread the needle’ for them

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One other takeaway from the mayoral forum on technology this afternoon: two of the leading Democratic  candidates defended current New York laws prohibiting short-term housing rentals, such as the ones listed on Airbnb.com.

The popular travel arrangement site operates globally, but it has faced resistance in New York from lawmakers and hotel unions, who view the site as unwanted competition for the local hotel industry. The company has said it would like to change the local laws to include their services.

At today's panel, Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith, who moderated the discussion, asked if the government should "be putting up barriers" to sites like Airbnb?

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is relying heavily on labor to boost his chances in the primary, said the city has strong laws guaranteeing the quality of residential and hotel dwellings. "The problem with mixing the two on the open market is your are exposing folks in a [residential] building [to] folks who are not part of that system," he said.

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He went on to say people living in those co-ops, condos or apartments "did not sign up for" having hotel-like transients as their neighbors.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn agreed, but said she'd like to find a compromise to help the company operate in New York.

Instead of pitting housing and labor against startup companies like Airbnb, Quinn, a former housing advocate, said the lesson from this fight is "we need to add tech entrepreneurs more into the conversation about government. Because, had AirBnB entered into the conversation earlier, there might have been different relief that could be offered to them in Albany. And in fact my office is in conversation with them now to see if there is some way to thread the needle differently for them."

Adolfo Carrion Jr., the former White House Urban Policy director, who also worked at the Housing and Urban Development agency, said, "I'm not entirely convinced it is a gigantic issue; it is an important issue though."

Carrion, who said he used a similar site when visiting his daughter while she is studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, also said the city needs to make sure that much-needed affordable housing units aren't taken out of the market and unfairly used by people as hotel rooms.

City Comptroller John Liu seemed unfamiliar with the company when he was asked about it.

The two other Democratic candidates on the panel, former comptroller Bill Thompson and former councilman Sal Albanese, were not asked about the issue.