A conflicted city council to begin looking at how to regulate Airbnb

The Boston City Council today approved looking into how to regulate rental services like Airbnb from laying waste to neighborhoods and harming local hotels and workers while also protecting poor homeowners who increasingly rely on the services to make ends meet and stay in the city.

At its regular meeting today, councilors took different positions of the impacts of the rental services.

In East Boston, Charlestown and the North End, City Councilor Sal LaMattina said, investors are buying up units right and left and turning them into permanent "virtual hotel rooms," locking out poor and middle-class residents.

He said there are now 270 units in his district listed on Airbnb, charging between $150 and $270 a night. "How can working families afford that?" he asked, adding that the transient nature of Airbnb rental units helps breakdown the connections between neighbors that make neighborhoods work.

And the online services has an unfair advantage over local hotels, he said. "You don't have to get an inspection, not from ISD, not from the Fire Department, because there are no regulations in place."

In Hyde Park, Roslindale and Mattapan, Councilor Tim McCarthy said, residents with sheds and detached garages are gutting them and turning them into Airbnb rentals, leading to residents wondering about the strange people now walking around their neighborhoods.

But in Roxbury and South Boston, poor homeowners and the elderly with rapidly rising property taxes are increasingly relying on Airbnb and its competitors to stay in Boston, councilors Tito Jackson (Roxbury) and Bill Linehan (South Boston) said.

Jackson said that had Airbnb been around during the 2008 recession, fewer people in areas such as Dorchester and Roxbury might have lost their homes to foreclosure, because the Airbnb income might have been enough to tide them over.

Linehan said some of his senior constituents have come to rely on Airbnb renters as a way of staving off the isolation they might otherwise feel as their families move out.

Jackson said Boston should do everything it can to encourage the young tech-savvy types who are inventing the future - and he noted that Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk went to Boston Latin Academy.

"We should proceed with utter caution," he said.

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Council to look at how to prevent unstable people from becoming constables

The Boston City Council agreed today to hold a hearing on the vetting process for how people become constables following last week's shootout in East Boston, involving a man who the council named a constable earlier this year.

"Clearly the vetting process is broken," Councilor Tim McCarthy (Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale) said of the April council vote that happened with no discussion.

McCarthy acknowledged the voice vote to approve Kirk Figueroa without a hearing meant councilors did not know of his issues in other states.

McCarthy sponsored the motion for a hearing to which Boston Police, Suffolk County prosecutors and the mayor's office would be invited to make sure constables, who normally serve papers, are on the up and up.

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Boston City Council to Harvard: Give your food-service workers a decent contract

The city council today urged Harvard University to give its food-services workers the $35,000 minimum salary that is one of the issues in the workers' current strike.

"Shame on you Harvard for raising $7 billion for your endowment and now you're endowment is $37 billion ... and you can't take care of your workers," Councilor Tito Jackson (Roxbury) said.

"Please stop studying poverty and take your rightful leadership place in doing something to prevent it," Councilor Ayannna Pressley (at large) said.

"[The salary request] is one one-millionth of Harvard's endowment," Councilor Josh Zakim (Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway, Mission Hill) said. "They do a lot of good work, but they're not doing a lot of good today."

Council President Michelle Wu, who proposed the resolution, went to Harvard as an undergraduate and for law school. She aid she learned first hand the importance of food-service workers there. "They truly become your family away from home," she recalled.

Councilor Michael Flaherty (at large) added, "I wouldn't go to Harvard if I got in for free," because of the way it's treated its workers and the neighborhoods of Allston and Brighton.

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Congressman backs North-South rail link; says expanding South Station would be a 'historic mistake'

WGBH reports on comments by US Rep. Seth Moulton on why he supports the North-South Rail Link between North and South stations. State officials have long said, nah, let's expand South Station, even though they've yet to convince the Postal Service to move out of its current facility there.

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You might want to avoid driving anywhere near UMass Boston this afternoon

Uncle Joe is coming for a visit.

Expect significant delays between 2 and 6 p.m. as Secret Service and law enforcement officers work to secure the area for the vice president's visit. A security check-point will be set up at around noon between the Kennedy Institute and the end of University Drive North to search all vehicles traveling toward the institute and the Campus Center.

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