Thousands of ominous fliers from an organization called Keep Our Homes have appeared in residents’ mailboxes in recent weeks. They warn of scheming politicians and urge residents to “Stop the BAN” on short-term rentals.
But Keep Our Homes is not funded by a local group of homeowners, as the campaign’s name might suggest. It is backed by Airbnb, which is currently engaged in a multimillion dollar battle to win a referendum on Tuesday in New Jersey’s second-largest city.
The company’s opponents — the hotel industry and a powerful hotel workers union — have also injected sizable amounts into the fray, sending “Vote YES” mailers and buying TV spots.
The clash has been replete with accusations of misinformation campaigns and the harassment of Airbnb hosts, and some have insinuated that the restrictions were influenced by special interests.
The upcoming vote has rapidly become the most expensive local referendum in the state’s history, and one of the biggest battles that Airbnb is fighting this year in efforts to repel home-sharing restrictions in cities across the country.
Jersey City, just a four-minute train ride from Manhattan, has become increasingly valuable to Airbnb as New York City has cracked down on illegal Airbnbs.
Residents will vote on a city law that would impose strict regulations on short-term rentals.
The restrictions would almost certainly diminish the number of properties listed on Airbnb — but would not outright ban homeowners from being able to rent out portions of their properties for short periods of time.
In the lead-up to the vote, residents at community meetings have complained about the growing nuisance of tourists. Attacks on neighborhood message boards have turned personal. And many residents have grown irritated by campaigns they see as disingenuous.
Airbnb has sunk $4.2 million into a political committee, while the hotel industry and workers union have reported close to $1 million in spending, according to disclosure reports. That’s about $33 spent per registered voter in a city of about 265,000 people, with more spending yet to be reported.
The home-sharing juggernaut has previously outspent its opponents by millions of dollars in cities like San Francisco to defeat similar referendums.
It is betting on the same tactic in Jersey City.