Posts from NYC

A Fair Share From Airbnb

I will be attending a press event today in NYC where Airbnb is announcing a $10mm program to support local efforts that improve the lives of New York State residents.

Airbnb calls this program A Fair Share and it estimates that the $10mm is just 10% of what a home sharing tax in New York State would produce for the city and state governments.

The $10mm in financial support is going to seven organizations. They are:

  • The New York Immigration Coalition

  • New York Mortgage Coalition

  • New York State Rural Housing Coalition, Inc.

  • Win

  • GMHC

  • CSNYC

  • Abyssinian Development Corporation

These are all organizations that benefit from city and state tax dollars but need to tap into the generosity of others to deliver their services.

Take CSNYC, where I am leading the $40mm CS4All private sector capital campaign to bring computer science education to every public school building in NYC. CS4All is a ten-year $80mm effort develop over 5,000 public school computer science teachers. Half of that $80mm is coming from the NYC taxpayers. The other half is being raised from private donors. Airbnb’s generous support helps us meet our budget this year and beyond and we are very grateful for it.

But there is a larger point being made here and one that I want to highlight. Airbnb wants to operate legitimately in New York City and New York State. It wants to collect taxes on behalf of hosts of non-hotel accommodations in New York. And it wants to be a positive force for the economy in New York. But its opponents, largely the hotel industry and its employees, are standing in the way of that. This is politics getting in the way of good sense. And that is irritating to me as a citizen of New York City and New York State.

I am thrilled to accept the generosity of Airbnb on behalf of CSNYC and I am also happy to be a participant in helping Airbnb make a larger point about what is right and what should happen here. I hope that A Fair Share helps them do that.

What Was, What Is, and What Will Be

A friend shared this book and blog with me called Vanishing New York. Both chronicle the loss of the culture and institutions that made NYC a magical place to live in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Certainly rising rents, rising wealth, a rising proportion of apartments owned by people who don’t live here, and all in all, a major bout of affluenza is afflicting Manhattan and possibly greater NYC right now.

But I personally struggle with sentimentality and wistfulness. Yes, the NYC that I fell in love the in the early 80s is no more, replaced by something that is much harder to sing the praises of.

But what interests me more is not what was or even what is, but what will be?

Where is NYC heading?

How will it manage it’s transportation crisis?

How will it cope with rising sea levels?

How will it deal with entire blocks of empty store fronts, brought on by the rise of ecommerce and landlords who won’t accept that their space is no longer worth what it once was?

I loved this Atlantic piece that suggested NYC should reimagine it’s massive array of subway tunnels as the underground highways for autonomous vehicles. I have no idea if that is a good idea or even feasible. But I love the ingenuity and thinking the author displays.

The Gotham Gal and I are making an apartment building in Brooklyn that is heated and cooled by solar power and has enough left over that we can sell it to the deregulating energy markets in New York State. We hope to make a few more of these buildings and maybe we will inspire other developers to do the same.

I am drawn to the vitality of life in the outer boroughs where the melting pot vibe still pulses through the neighborhoods. Of course, gentrification can and will mess them up the same way it has messed up Manhattan if we aren’t careful. But we still have time to implement policies that can mitigate the negative aspects of gentrification.

My point is this.

We can, and probably should, bear witness to what has become of NYC and what we have lost in the process.

But we must also be working on, investing in, and imaging what NYC (and life in general) can and will become.

Change is the only constant. Fighting it is a losing proposition. Shaping it is the winning one.

Tech:NYC Turns Two

It seems like yesterday when a bunch of folks in the NYC tech sector decided that it was time to form an organization to represent the tech sector in NYC.

But in fact, it was a little more than two years ago.

There was some upfront work we had to do and in the summer of 2016, we announced Tech:NYC.

Two years later the organization is 630 member companies strong, including over 500 small early-stage companies.

Yesterday, Tech:NYC issued their second annual report, which is just one long web page.

I really like this way of doing annual reports. It’s easy to consume and accessible to anyone with a computer or mobile phone.

If you are involved with or care about the tech sector in NYC, take a minute to read the annual report (it won’t take much more) and see about all the great things that are going on in NYC’s fastest growing economic sector.

And if you aren’t a member yet, you can join our email list at the end of the report and start hearing from us, which hopefully will lead you to join.

Airbnb and NYC

There is a bill in front of the NYC City Council called Intro 981 that will impose reporting requirements on Airbnb and their hosts in NYC. There will be a public debate on that bill this coming week.

The backdrop here is the growing housing affordability crisis in NYC and the idea that Airbnb is a significant contributor to it.

While I am not an expert in the economics of housing, I have lived in NYC for the past thirty-five years (my entire adult life), and my wife and I are also landlords in several of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn where rents have been rising most quickly. I have a layman’s understanding of the issue and an on the ground feel for it.

It is my view that we have a fundamental supply and demand problem at work in the rapidly gentrifying outer boroughs of NYC (most acutely in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx). NYC has added almost 500,000 residents this decade alone, a 5.5% increase in population from 2010 to 2017. This is driven by multiple factors but there are more people choosing to live in the five boroughs and less people choosing to leave them.

A major change in the last fifteen years is the emergence of the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx as the preferred place to live for many young professionals. They moved into these communities in their 20s to escape an increasingly unaffordable Manhattan and have stayed and are now raising their families in them.

This sea change in demand for housing has not yet been met with an equal increase in supply. There are cranes all over Brooklyn and Queens so I am optimistic that we will see the increases in supply that we need, but there is a lag in the supply of housing coming to market. And we need two kinds of supply, market-rate housing for those that can afford it, and subsidized housing for the displaced families that no longer can afford market rate housing.

And so where does Airbnb fit into this picture? It’s a reducer of supply to some extent as landlords take rental units off the market and list them on Airbnb instead. But having looked at multiple studies on this issue, I believe that Airbnb is a marginal player in this story, not the root cause of the problem. If Airbnb decided to stop operating in NYC (a terrible outcome in my view), I do not believe we would see a material change in the affordability issues that plague NYC.

And yet, elected officials in NYC and NY State have chosen to make Airbnb the poster child of the problem and impose restrictions and constraints on their operation. And, of course, the industry that Airbnb most threatens, the hotel industry and its labor unions, have fought back aggressively and effectively. It is hard to know what is good policy and what is good politics. I suspect we are seeing a lot of the latter and not enough of the former.

I am for reporting of listings as required by Intro 981. But I am not for the city using that data to come after hosts and harass them. Similar reporting requirements that have been enacted in SF, Chicago, and Seattle have included those protections for hosts. Intro 981 should too.

But more than that, I am for a comprehensive solution to the issues that short-term rentals raise. I am in favor of requiring a mechanism for neighbors to register complaints. And I am in favor of requiring Airbnb to collect taxes on short-term rentals in NYC and NY State, which is estimated to produce $100mm of incremental revenues for the City and State. A comprehensive bill that would legitimize the short-term rental market in NY State and NYC would unlock those revenues but the forces at work against Airbnb are fighting it. That makes no sense to me.

It is time to accept that Airbnb is here to stay in NYC and NY State. It is time to legitimize the practice of short-term rentals. It is time to put sensible complaint mechanisms and reporting requirements in place. And it is time to start collecting the taxes on this activity and using those revenues to solve other pressing issues like transportation, schools, and most importantly, our ability to house those who can’t afford to pay market rents.

I would encourage our elected officials to do all of that.

FINOS

In December I wrote about the Symphony Software Foundation as it was launching the NYC Open Source Fintech Meetup.

Yesterday the foundation announced a new name: FINOS.

FINOS is about supporting open source software efforts across the financial services industry.

Financial services has often lagged other industries in adopting open source software related development practices, but that situation is changing quickly. Quantitative trading firms like Jane Street have built entire businesses based on open source. And perhaps there is no better example of the degree to which open source is impacting financial services (and other industries of course) than bitcoin, ethereum, and other crypto projects.

FINOS Executive Director, Gabriele Columbro, described the FINOS mission as follows:

In the industries where open source has succeeded, independent entities such as foundations and trade organizations have played a critical role in fostering success. They have facilitated cooperation among players (often hard to do between fierce rivals) and encouraged dialogues necessary to solving common problems. This is precisely the role FINOS is playing in financial services.

Many of FINOS’ members are large global finance and tech companies such as Goldman Sachs, UBS, JP Morgan, GitHub, Thomson Reuters, and Red Hat. The accelerating adoption of open source in fintech is important not just for major financial institutions but also for emerging startups and younger companies looking to service incumbents or compete against them (or both). Examples among FINOS members include OpenFin and NodeSource.

Because financial services has always had an oversized impact on tech here in NYC, this is likely a huge boost to the NYC open source ecosystem too.

If you’re working in fintech I encourage you to get engaged with some of FINOS’ programs, either by just evaluating and checking out some of the work, or by getting actively involved by contributing code to a working group. If you’d like to hear more about FINOS and its work, you may want to attend their FinTech in Open Source Event Series this evening at 6:30pm where Gabriele Columbro will be interviewed by Spencer Mindlin of the Aite Group.

Finally, fintech is no different than any other “tech” sector in that we need more women, people of color, and other traditionally underrepresented communities at the table. The transparency and contribution models of open source projects can be a great on-ramp for anyone interested in a particular technology or problem domain. Together with K-12 CS education for all, open source can increase access to careers and opportunities historically all but closed to large segments of our society.

Funding Friday: The L-Ternative Bridge

Every day 300,000 people take the L train to and from work. I am not sure if that is 300,000 people or 150,000 people going in and out, but either way, it’s a lot of people.

And the MTA is going to shut down the L train for 15 months, starting in April 2019.

So this is a big deal for NYC, and a big deal for NYC tech companies. In an informal and unscientific poll I took this week of NYC tech company CEOs, about 20-25% of the employees of NYC tech companies in Manhattan take the L train to work.

So how are these people going to commute for those 15 months (which is almost certainly going to take longer than 15 months)?

The best answer I have heard from the NYC government is “more buses going over the Williamsburg bridge.” Which is an option but not a fantastic option. The Williamsburg bridge is already a crowded transportation mode during the morning and evening rush hours and more buses means something is going to have to give.

So this week, I saw this cool project pop up on Kickstarter.

Take just one minute and watch this video:

Pretty cool, right?

My dad was an Army Corp of Engineers officer his entire career and retired a Brigadier General. He knows a lot about pontoon bridges. So I asked him if this idea is viable. He said:

Fred,
Having built several pontoon bridges, including some designed for 60-ton tanks, I know the idea is feasible.
(One of my bridges was across the Rhine River.  That was done for the first time by Julius Caesar.)
Drawbacks:  they are expensive, have low speed limits, and require constant maintenance.
Still, if the permanent solution in that location can’t handle traffic for some time, this could be a temporary replacement.
Interesting idea. Thanks for sharing it with me.
Love, Dad
That’s all I need to know that this will work. My dad knows his stuff when it comes to pontoon bridges.
So if you want to see this idea get some traction, go to Kickstarter and support this project like I did this week.

Election Day

It’s election day and I’m going to stop by the polls this morning and vote.

It would be easy for me to skip the polls as there is not much at stake in NYC this year.

Mayor de Blasio is going to get re-elected fairly easily as he has no strong challengers.

The same is true of the other citywide officials and most city council members, including mine.

But I am going to vote in spite of all of that.

I think one of our biggest problems in our country is voter apathy.

So I am going to demonstrate against that by showing up and voting in an election with little to nothing at stake.

NYCx

NYC announced a challenge program this week that is aimed at getting innovators, designers, technologists, entrepreneurs, etc focused on solving some of NYC’s most interesting problems. It is called NYCx and you can learn more about it here.

The first three challenges are up and are here.

They are:

The Governors Island Connectivity Challenge

Increasing Recycling In Brownsville Public Housing

Creating Safe Nightime Corridors In Brownsville

The City will continue to roll out these NYCx challenges in the coming months and years.

If you think you can solve one of the three existing challenges, you can apply on the links above.

Why Amazon Should Come To NYC

USA Today reported that NYC is working on a proposal to encourage Amazon to locate its second headquarters “HQ2” in NYC.

I can’t imagine a better place for HQ2 than NYC.

Here are ten reasons why Amazon should stop thinking about any other place and just pick NYC:

  1. NYC is headquarters to many global companies. It has the transportation systems, building stock, and talent base that companies need and desire for their headquarters.
  2. It has 8.5mm people, enough to satisfy Amazon’s insatiable appetite for talent.
  3. It is home to the entrepreneurs, creators, innovators, and big ideas that Amazon is looking to surround itself with.
  4. It is home to the second largest tech sector in the US.
  5. NYC is committed to teaching computer science to all of the 1.1mm students in its school system by 2025 and is already 1/3 of the way there.
  6. NYC/NYS has embarked on massive infrastructure investment to upgrade its transportation hubs like LGA and Penn Station.
  7. There are something like fifteen direct flights from NYC to Seattle every weekday.
  8. NYC has the largest Amazon customer base of any city in the US (I am guessing on this one. But it has to be true).
  9. NYC will welcome Amazon with open arms unlike some of the other cities that Amazon is considering.
  10. NYC has the most diverse workforce in the US.

So if any AVC readers know how to get this post to the team at Amazon that is making this decision, please send it to them. I am certain NYC is the place for them. They will love it here.

Cornell Tech

I took a ferry up the East River yesterday evening to attend a dinner celebrating the official opening of Cornell Tech which happens this morning.

Situated on Roosevelt Island, underneath the Queensboro Bridge, Cornell Tech is a graduate school of engineering and business that is focused on the technologies and industries of the 21st Century. While the campus is officially opening today, Cornell Tech has been operating as a graduate school for something like four or five years now, in the Google building in Chelsea.

It is the result of an RFP process that Mike Bloomberg’s administration put out seeking a new school of engineering in NYC.

Last night the former mayor spoke about all of that and reminded us, as he always does, why NYC is the greatest place in the world.

With the opening of Cornell Tech, the city continues to feel the impact of Mike’s twelve years of leadership.

He put NYC on solid footing and helped to point it in the right direction. We are all grateful for that.

Speaking of leadership, Cornell Tech is led by Dean Dan Huttenlocher. Dan is a fantastic technologist, educator, and community member.

If Cornell Tech is a gift that the Bloomberg administration gave NYC, Dan is a gift that Cornell gave NYC.

Dan’s leadership in the NYC tech community has already been felt and as he said last night, “the best is yet to come.”

The synergies between engineering schools and technology communities are well understood and well documented.

NYC has some great engineering schools, like NYU’s Tandon where I am on the Board, Columbia’s School Of Engineering, and at the various CUNY schools. The addition of a world class institution like Cornell Tech will only make things better. It ups the competition between these schools for students, faculty, and research grants. And that makes everyone better.

Today is a big day for the NYC tech community. We welcome the Cornell Tech campus to NYC and celebrate all the good things that will come of this. And I am certain that there will be many.