Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Carole Osterink often gets tips from her neighbors in Hudson – that a sofa has been left on a broken bridge or that a Chinese restaurant on Warren Street has closed. These tips help him understand Blog, The Gossips of Rivertown, on which she covers everything from school elections to lost dogs in detail. But in January, something particularly juicy happened. There was a new Hudson Airbnb listing: a three-bedroom on Union Street for $200 a night. The description was conventional: the place had a “country kitchen, a record player and a comfortable sectional sofa”. What was interesting, writes Osterink in a Publish, was “that the apartment is located in a house owned by former First Quarter alder Rebecca Wolff, the great critic of gentrification and tourism, an advocate for affordable housing, and the architect of the law restricting rentals to short term at Hudson”. “Appalling,” someone commented. Another: “I honestly don’t know how Rebecca Wolff will be able to hold her head up while walking down Warren Street after this.”
Wolff arrived in Hudson in 2005. A poet and publisher, she grew up in Chelsea, then spent years bouncing around college towns across the country before eventually buying the house on Union Street. Shortly after moving in, she rented half the space to a long-term tenant, below the market rate. “I understand that I’m a gentrified person,” Wolff tells me of his move to Hudson. “I’ve talked about it in every anti-gentrification conversation I’ve ever had, which is about a billion. I’m pretty obsessed with it, honestly.
A few years after moving in, a couple buys the house adjoining theirs. She soon realized that they had no intention of actually living there. “They bought it just for Airbnb,” she says. A rotating cast of vacationers began riding their bikes alongside, leaving the doors open and the lights on: “It was miserable.”
By the time she decided to run for city council as a politician for the first time in 2019, Wolff was already well known in the city as an outspoken critic of Airbnb. One person recounted hearing her read an anti-Airbnb poem during a housing forum. She has frequently posted on Facebook how cities across Europe are effectively regulating Airbnb, and she has held public forums on the subject. People described her as “inflexible” and “vehement” when talking about short-term rentals. But while she might have been the most vocal, she was far from the only one.
There are plenty of Airbnbs in Hudson; the town 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 is a sensitive one. The subject of wealthy foreigners buying homes to rent out to other wealthy foreigners strikes a chord in a city that has gentrified so rapidly it has become known as “sixth district.” For years, median rental prices in Hudson have been rising – from $875 for a bedroom in March 2015 to $1,787 in 2022, according at Zumper. These changes are keenly felt by the city’s longtime black and immigrant residents. “You walk down Warren Street, on State and Columbia, and you might see a black person – that’s it. People of color are being kicked out completely,” says Tiffany Garriga, who served as Majority Leader on City Council for seven years.
But those driven by a changing Hudson aren’t the only ones angered by the proliferation of Airbnbs. The old gentrifiers feel that these even newer gentrifiers are making the city less ‘cool, like Wolff Express in a blog post. (“To me personally,” she writes, “the town of Hudson runs the risk of being not only economically oppressive and miserably corrupted by monocultural colonialist tours, but also simply in bad taste. Shopping shopping shopping hotel hotel hotel candle candle candle bullshit. So uncool.” Others say it’s mostly fair annoying at the daily level. A resident told me that she was recently leaving her house with a suitcase when she was approached by an out-of-towner who ran across the street to ask her if she was coming out of an Airbnb: , no. It’s my house.’
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Hudson became the No. 1 subway station in the country in terms of the rate of people moving there. The perception of foreigners has taken on a new tenor. At a council meeting, Garriga raised the issue of strangers walking around without a mask, while Wolff accused people “to try to have a little vacation in our city when they are supposed to stay at home”.
All of this reinforced Wolff’s resolve to use his newly won seat on the council to regulate non-owner occupied housing. Airbnbs and push for housing solutions. She dedicated herself to her work, lobbying for affordable housing projects and serving on several committees. His tone, says John Paul Kane, a resident who lived 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, led by Wolff and fellow councilor John Rosenthal, a local carpenter and screenwriter, to regulate short-term rentals. The virtual meetings spoiled things, but the conversation managed to elicit strong reactions. “Feelings got hot and people said a lot of things,” says Rosenthal. “It took a long time to pass a very simple bill.” opponents complained that regulation would “strangle the economy,” while proponents replied, “All you rich bastards, strangle our community.”
In the fall, the law on short-term rentals was passed by the council unanimouslyand it was sign by the mayor later that year. It limits rentals to “three units per tax parcel” (as long as residents also live there) and rentals of personal homes to 60 days per year (as long as owners live in Hudson at least 50 days per year). The the law itself was moderate, affecting only nine existing Airbnb operators, all of whom successfully requested a waiver to continue to manage their short-term rentals. But it also prevented any future foreigners from coming in and buying multiple Airbnb properties as investments, as any new Airbnb would have to follow the restrictions. Things seemed to calm down. Then, a year later, Wolff’s Airbnb listing popped up.
“I had a minute where I was like, Well, isn’t it funny that I list my apartment on Airbnb?says Wolff. “But that didn’t strike me as huge hypocrisy.” When the Union 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. She had decided to stay at her parents’ vacation home on Cape Cod to focus on writing and needed to find a sub-letter. (Wolff wanted to point out that she doesn’t have a trust fund, as many people have since accused her, and that the Cape Town house she’s staying in is “not a fabulous beach house. It’s a little house in the woods; it’s quite modest.”) When she didn’t find a tenant quickly, she took the path of least resistance and put it on Airbnb for a little while. It was all right, in his mind. As an Airbnb owner-occupier, she was following the principles of the new law – which Herself had worked so hard to pass.
None of this logic appealed to the people of Hudson, who had spent at least five years listening to him denounce Airbnbs. “When she listed her own place on Airbnb, everyone saw it. She lost her credibility,” says Rich Volo, a former alder and Airbnb operator. say you are the champion of the working class.” (Many have pointed out to me that Wolff once posted a screenshot of a local real estate agent’s Instagram bio that said he owned Airbnbs and investment properties with the caption, “Look at this jerk. I’ll rip his head off and feed him to a #lion. She later deleted it.) There was a strong sense of Schadenfreude – it seemed like many in town who thought they had long been judged by Wolff were thrilled to see her slip up. others were more impartial about the situation: “Rebecca has worked hard, but sometimes she gets in the way of her good work,” says Rosenthal.
As the housing situation deteriorates everywhere, the subject of short-term rentals and how to regulate them will continue to be hotly debated – often in small, understaffed localities, inevitably by well-opinionated political newcomers. arrested. “I think a lot of the conversation is so charged because there’s a housing crisis really apparent all over America – it’s hard to live on income and rent, and if you want to buy something in as a first-time home buyer, there’s nothing to buy,” says Rosenthal. “And that makes it very difficult in local government to deal with an issue that is far beyond your resources and your capabilities.”
As for Wolff, she has some regrets. “If I had realized what kind of attention, time and energy it would have taken to list my apartment on Airbnb, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” she says. “I feel like it’s a huge distraction from the real situation.” But above all, she just feels misunderstood. “I have made the personal calculation that having the time to write, a luxury indeed, is a luxury I have to some degree earned through what are unquestionably my good works,” she said. wrote in a blog post after the incident. “Most importantly, I will explain for the hundredth time that owner-occupied short-term rentals do not pose a threat to housing availability or the character of the city, as unoccupied short-term rentals do. by the owner, and that’s why the law I helped pass doesn’t prohibit them.