Posts from Politics

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.

Regulating and Legislating Tech and Tech Companies

More and more of the news around tech these days is about the relationship between technology companies and government. That was not the case a decade ago when regulators and elected officials took a largely hands off approach to technology, particularly the Internet, web, and mobile.

While I am not a fan of many of the moves that regulators and elected officials have made over the last few years, including the NYC City Council’s recent bills to clamp down on home-sharing and ride-sharing in NYC, I do believe that the tech sector and tech companies must engage with the public sector and they must do it earlier in their development.

It is hard to be an advocate for the tech sector and tech companies with the public sector, a role I play fairly regularly, when the companies in question have not been the best actors themselves.

The good news is that the tech sector no longer naively believes that it can opt out of the public discourse and political engagement.

The bad news is it is playing catch-up and is on it’s heels. That is going to take time and money to fix.

Emerging sectors like crypto and machine learning should pay heed to what has happened here and not make the same mistakes as their predecessors.

Funding Friday: Atlantic City

I backed this project earlier this week. Atlantic City is a cautionary tale about our President and how he operates.  I hope you will join me in bringing this project to life.

Comments are closed for this post.

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.

The Parent Child Relationship

It is fathers day today. And I thought I’d write a bit about something that is really bothering me.

I’ve come to terms with a lot of what is going on in the US federal government and our political system. I see it as a natural swinging of the pendulum. Many on the right think we went too far left under Obama. Many on the left think we have gone too far right under Trump. In time, Trump will be history and we will undo all of this nonsense he is putting in place. So is the way of politics and government and every time something happens in DC that bugs me, I think “this too shall pass.”

But, this policy of separating children from their parents at the border really bugs me. The NY Times has a good report up on their homepage right now about how we got to this place.

The Federal Government has been debating this issue of separating children from their parents at the border as a deterrent for more than a decade. From that Times piece:

Yet for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents’ arms was simply too inhumane — and too politically perilous — to embrace as policy, and Mr. Trump, though he had made an immigration crackdown one of the central issues of his campaign, succumbed to the same reality, publicly dropping the idea after Mr. Kelly’s comments touched off a swift backlash.

I understand the need and the desire to protect our borders and enforce our immigration system, even though I believe we are being way too restrictive in terms of who we let into our country right now. But the law is the law and until we have a new law, we need to enforce the existing law. I get that.

But the children are not the ones making the decisions to violate the laws. And yet they are being punished just as much, possibly even more so, than their parents.

Kelly says “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever” as if it is no big deal to forcibly separate a child from his or her parents.

It is a big deal, a traumatic event with long-term implications for that child.

Many of us in this community are parents who have cared for and nurtured our children, loved them, supported them, and made them feel safe. We know what that bond is between parent and child, and we know that ripping it apart is an awful horrible thing to do and that we should not be doing it.

On this Fathers Day, let us all say to our government “no more.” We must end this immoral and unjustifiable policy and we must end it now. Ideally today. There is no better day, other than Mothers Day, to do that.

Taxation Of Carried Interest

The issue of how to tax carried interest, the profit sharing interests that VCs, Private Equity firms, and Hedge Funds receive as compensation for generating returns to their investors, is in the news again.

This time it is not a debate at the Federal level, but at the state level. There are carried interest taxation bills under discussion in California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York,Rhode Island, and possibly other states that I am not aware of.

My view on this issue is simple and I’ve stated here publicly and regulary since mid 2007.

If you are being paid a fee for managing other people’s money and have no capital at risk on the carried interest, I don’t understand how it can be considered a capital gain.

It may be good economic policy to incentivize people to manage other people’s money and maybe there should be some tax break for doing so. That is a different conversation in my view. Though I don’t buy that one either.

But capital gains tax rates should only be available to those who put their own capital at risk. Many VCs do that in their funds. The partners at USV make up a sizeable portion of our funds. We should and do get capital gains treatment on those investments.

But we also get capital gains treatment on the carried interest and I’ve never understood why. I think it’s wrong.

Finally, because I’ve written these thoughts here before, I know that some will say “well then you should be sticking to your principles and paying ordinary income rates on all of that carry you have received over the years.”

I don’t think that is right either. If the government sets the rules, and everybody else is playing by them, I don’t think it makes sense to play by different rules. I do think it makes sense to explain why you think the rules are wrong. Which is what I am doing here.

The Promise Of Parkland

This post is not about the tragedy that happened at Parkland or the gun safety debate that has been re-energized by it. Those are both worthy topics but I’m not opining on them today.

I do hope that this tragedy, among so many like it, will result in meaningful changes in our society in terms of how we protect our children in school and also how we allow responsible and healthy people to own and secure their weapons.

What I am going to opine on is how Parkland is re-shaping the debate about how social media and technology more broadly is impacting our culture, our collective conversations, and our politics.

In the beginning, the tech sector believed, and told everyone, that connecting the world via technology was going to be great, a technological utopia as it were.

That, of course, turned out not to be true and what we have are both vast improvements (truly global real time communications that everyone can tap into) and equally vast problems (you can’t believe and can’t trust anything you read on the Internet).

It is the classic good news/bad news situation.

In the past few years, but most notably last year, the discussion of this topic has focused on the bad side of these changes. Fake news, hacked systems, bots, ad systems gone haywire, and so on and so forth. We collectively lost trust in social media and technology and became angry about it.

Then comes Parkland. These amazing brave and vocal young adults, victims, with the same tools in their hands.

And we see, again, the good side.

The promise of Parkland, for me, is that this technology we have built and use every day can be an impactful tool for real people with real things to say to get their words out, and for the rest of us to see them, amplify them, discuss them, debate them, and understand them.

I feel the pendulum on this issue swinging back to center, where it belongs, and I am very encouraged by that.

The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

I listened to Sam Harris talk to Niall Ferguson yesterday on Sam’s Waking Up podcast.

Niall is a historian, an author, a journalist, and an academic.

He has just published a new book on a topic that is near and dear to me, USV, and many of you; networks and hierarchies, and how these two forms of information flow and management have impacted society over the last five hundred years (or so).

The book is called The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

I bought it for our Kindles today and will get into it asap. But just hearing Niall talk about the ideas in the book tells me that this is going to be an important read for many of us.

We may think that the power of information networks to shape society is a new thing (Facebook, fake news, Trump, etc, etc) but Niall argues that there is nothing new here and these sorts of things have been going on in analog networks for hundreds of years. As Shakespeare said, “what’s past is prologue” and we should learn as much from the past as we can. That’s what historians are for, after all.

I plan on doing that and you may want to join me.