Home Improvement

Why Is Ex–Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh Buying Houses En Masse in Utah?

Peter Bohler/Redux

Hsieh has purchased 71 bathrooms in less than three months.

Ex–Zappos chief Tony Hsieh is buying up millions of dollars’ worth of real estate in the small ski town of Park City, Utah, and no one quite knows why. After two decades as CEO, Hsieh quietly stepped down from the online shoe retailer this past August without a formal announcement. His retirement present to himself? Tens of millions of dollars in Utah homes.

Park City knows wealth: It’s the site of the Sundance Film Festival, and Michael Jordan and Will Smith, as well as the festival’s co-founder Robert Redford, own houses there. But according to public records in Summit County, Utah, the scale and timeframe of Hsieh’s purchases is likely unprecedented; after buying a 4,395-square-foot home on Empire Avenue in March, he bought three more houses and a vacant lot in July, and four more homes in August. All of this — worth at least an estimated $39 million— was purchased through a Nevada entity called Pickled Investments, which Hsieh manages.

Since then, the almost billionaire has closed on three more homes, each purchased using different LLCs that all list Hsieh’s original Empire Avenue house as the registered address. And he’s reportedly under contract on three more properties that will close this month. Altogether, over the past 11 weeks, he’s got himself 57 bedrooms, 71.5 bathrooms, and 68,169 square feet. Throw in the two vacant lots and his retirement buying spree has cost a total market value of around $56 million.

Clearly, one man cannot occupy all this real estate. (Hsieh memorably lives in a trailer park most of the time.) Is he buying up homes so that all of his friends can come quarantine in Park City? (Seven of the properties are on the same street, Aspen Springs Drive, and four are on Empire Avenue.) Is this, as friends say, a digital detox helping the ex-CEO to “disconnect”? Is he going into the renovate-and-flip business? Is he aiming to become the next Property Brother? Does he just like talking to salesmen?

An August report by Eater Vegas stated that local chef Dan Krohmer is going to work for Hsieh in Park City to “bring more arts, culture, and food to the city.” Curbed reached out to Hsieh multiple times for comment on his plans and hasn’t received a response. But this isn’t the first time Hsieh has gone all-in on a town. In 2013, he relocated his Amazon-owned shoe company to Las Vegas’s downtown district, investing roughly $350 million of his own capital to turn the rundown area north of the Strip into a hot spot with shipping-container buildings, pyrotechnic sculptures, and a llama-themed Airstream trailer park.

The most important question remains: If Hsieh has indeed moved out of his 240-square-foot trailer in Vegas and into any one of his 15 new Park City homes, did Marley and Triton, his pet alpacas, join him? Or did they get their own place down the block?

Home Improvement

Can Balconies, Bigger Lobbies, and Package Rooms Help Save Public Housing?

A rendering of a renovated New York City Housing Authority mid-rise masonry tower with new balconies, a rooftop canopy, and infill units.A new concept from the Regional Plan Association and Peterson Rich Office proposes renovating and expanding NYCHA buildings. | Courtesy Peterson Rich Office

Peterson Rich Office walks us through an idea, developed with the Regional Plan Association, that calls for adaptive reuse and infill on NYCHA campuses.

Everyone can agree that something has to be done about the chronic problems facing public housing in New York, with its $32 billion maintenance backlog — elevators out, heat and hot water out, toxic mold, pest and vermin infestations, and fiscal mismanagement, to start — and, in a city where the working class is priced out of the market — and a 160,000-person waiting list. But politicians, residents, and advocates don’t always see eye to eye on what to do about it.

Now the Regional Plan Association (RPA), which for decades has developed big-think ideas for how to improve life in the New York area, has a few suggestions. For the past year, it has been working with the New York–based architecture firm Peterson Rich Office (PRO), whose co-founders had been named the Richard Kaplan Chairs for Urban Design as part of a newly established fellowship position, to create design solutions for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

A rendering of an NYCHA building showing infill development that bumps out of existing buildings.
Infill proposals typically call for new freestanding buildings, but PRO and the RPA’s concept essentially adds wings to existing structures. Part of the reasoning is that expanding buildings outward could better integrate NYCHA campuses with neighborhoods. These expanded sections include lobbies that are closer to the street and additional units.

While PRO is best known for its upscale residential and arts and culture work (the firm recently renovated Galerie Perrotin and is working on the Hudson Valley Museum of Contemporary Art), it also has an interest in urban design. Miriam Peterson, who co-founded the firm with her partner, Nathan Rich, is from New York City and studied urban economics before going to architecture school. Rich was a teacher at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he researched rapid urbanization in Asia.

Over the past few years, the firm has published conceptual projects that show how design could help address NYCHA’s maintenance challenges and the city’s affordable-housing shortage. 9×18 — a conceptual project from when Peterson, Rich, and urban planner Sagi Golan were fellows at the Institute for Public Architecture — proposed building new affordable-housing units on NYCHA surface-parking lots. Roof by Roof explored how to build new affordable housing on top of existing NYCHA buildings.

In the absence of adequate public funding for housing — and a federal policy that says there cannot be a net increase in the number of public-housing units — city leaders have turned to private development. The Bloomberg administration, which heavily promoted so-called public-private partnerships, floated the idea of leasing NYCHA open-space land (including its surprisingly extensive stock of surface parking) to private developers, who would then build mixed-income housing. The idea was that the leasing fees collected would help fund the maintenance and repairs to existing buildings and that developers would have to build an 80:20 ratio of market rate to affordable units. However, many City Council members, housing advocates, and tenants denounced the idea as a land grab that is privatizing resources that should remain public.

Of course, private capital isn’t the only way to fund the maintenance backlog NYCHA faces, but it is one of the most readily available sources. In its 2015 NextGeneration NYCHA plan and 2018 NYCHA 2.0 plan, the de Blasio administration looked to the Obama-era Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) — which allows public-housing agencies to switch how they receive federal funds, from Section 9 (how NYCHA is typically funded) to Section 8 (the voucher program to private landlords) — as a way to fund infill development and transfer management of public housing to private entities. These policies have resulted in unpopular proposals to demolish existing housing in order to build new, privately managed buildings.

Meanwhile, the Green New Deal for Public Housing bill, sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calls for $180 billion of investment in public housing across the country, including NYCHA, to fund repairs, maintenance, and retrofits; however, broad political support for enacting such a bill is absent.

Last month, the RPA and PRO released their report, “Scalable Design Solutions for NYCHA,” which proposes ways in which existing buildings could be retrofitted and expanded to help meet the needs of current residents and also make room for more people. It knits together many of the ideas that have come before: infill, replacing outdated systems with more energy-efficient decentralized ones, better integrating NYCHA campuses with their neighborhoods, and restoring public housing to a dignified place to live.

The heart of the plan? Retrofitting existing towers and expanding them. PRO proposes adding private balconies to each unit, which would hold individually controllable heating and cooling equipment; layering on a secondary roof structure, which would help with leaks and also provide space for solar panels; and expanding the buildings outward to make space for more units, to integrate campuses with their surrounding neighborhoods, and to create more accessible and welcoming lobbies.

The report shows how these proposals could work in a case-study location, the Cooper Park Houses, located in East Williamsburg. This NYCHA campus currently has $120 million in unmet capital needs. Under existing zoning regulations, Cooper Park only has half of its as-of-right floor area constructed and could support an additional 550,836 square feet of development. PRO isn’t the first entity to recognize this. Cooper Park was to be the site of a NextGen infill development, which recently stalled due to pushback from residents and local officials.

Peterson and Rich walk us through their concept.

What did you find out about the architectural problems and challenges with NYCHA?

Nathan Rich: There are a number. There are architectural challenges and then there are maintenance challenges. And to some extent, they’re not separated from each other, but I would start with the maintenance ones. They’re maybe a little less sexy, but they’re the ones that impact residents on a daily basis.

The steam-boiler systems are failing; residents regularly lose heat and don’t have individual control over the heat. The systems are also leaking and causing mold to build up in a lot of the older buildings. It’s a huge public-health issue.

Most NYCHA buildings are masonry, and they’re built without insulation. They have old windows, so they’re extremely leaky and energy inefficient. They’re a major cost, and resident comfort issues come along with that. These are real nuts-and-bolts issues with the building, and architectural solutions to those issues are what we’re trying to propose.

Miriam Peterson: One of the things that is typical to many NYCHA buildings is that the ground floor is sort of part above and part below grade, so what it means is that there’s a big volume of space that’s at street level that’s not occupied. Some of it is mechanical space or maintenance offices. But that also means that there’s an accessibility issue with getting into the building. Many lobbies are up a set of steps. Then the lobbies themselves are very small and have poor access to natural light.

NR: NYCHA developments are based on a post-WWII vision of the nuclear family, so there are a lot of two-bedroom and four-bedroom apartments. NYCHA’s resident data analysis shows that there is a huge need for one-bedroom and studio apartments. [Editor’s note: NYCHA estimates that 40 percent of households are living in units that aren’t the right size for their families: 44,663 households are living in underoccupied units; 11,403 are living in what the agency calls “extremely underoccupied” units; and at least 15,103 are living in overcrowded units.]

Walk us through how the Scalable Design Solutions solve some of NYCHA’s problems.

NR: We have an index of all the campuses around the city and picked Cooper Park [as a case study on how these solutions could work] because, in some ways, it’s the most quintessential type of campus. You have these mid-rise buildings separated from one another by significant distances on a superblock site. It’s also in [East Williamsburg], a neighborhood that has a fairly high density and is developing quickly.

MP: There are some specific reasons why comprehensive infill [on NYCHA sites] tends to be really challenging. One is a new building would require access, and so you often find one at the edge of a cul-de-sac or a parking lot. Two is a kind of nerdy building-code regulation: For habitable spaces, which all residential spaces need to be, you need to have proper light and air circulation. Windows have to be a certain distance away from other habitable spaces. So you typically see a 30-foot setback and what that means then is 90 feet between window to window on a NYCHA infill project. This limits where new buildings can go.

An aerial view of the building footprints and setbacks.
Another reason for the expansion approach? Building setbacks, as mandated by zoning codes. At Cooper Park, the case-study campus, the only areas that could accommodate new structures were in the center of the campuses or on recreation space.

In thinking about that distance limitation, we started to rethink infill from the perspective of a horizontal extension of existing buildings [instead of building a separate new building]. This means that upgrades to the existing buildings are not only important but are inextricable in executing a new build. So we feel like there is a great opportunity for showing residents right away that priority one is fixing your building, your physical space, your needs.

NR: Infill can be a completely separate building, and there have been a number of infill proposals that residents have managed to stop because they weren’t seeing any direct benefit to the existing buildings. You have to improve the existing building with an extension.

MP: This development strategy acts on the existing building, and that opens up opportunities for rethinking ground floors, for providing specific amenities people come to expect in residential architecture today, which really weren’t part of the plan of these buildings when they were constructed in the 1930s to 1970s and 1980s, like mail and package rooms or trash and recycling collection.

Extension-based infill [brings the entrances of buildings closer to the street] and provides opportunities for residents to enter directly off of the sidewalk. We also use the extension as an opportunity to make smaller ADA-accessible units that could be an opportunity for relocating or rightsizing elderly residents into units that aren’t only better at meeting their needs at this stage in their life but also closer to the lobby. This could open up [existing] bigger apartments to families.

Part of the extension plan is to build balconies onto every existing unit. Why?

NR: The balconies do three things. The first is a quality-of-life benefit. During COVID, it’s become much more apparent that having privately accessible outdoor space is just a huge benefit to quality of life in New York City. Most NYCHA residents don’t have direct access to outdoor space from their units.

The second thing this does is the balcony provides a place to put a condenser for new mechanical systems. We’re proposing split systems be installed, which means there’s a condenser that sits on the balcony, and there are small air handlers that can blow both heat and cool air into the units. Residents could have individual control over the temperature in their units. [Editor’s note: Heat and hot water are included in the rent NYCHA residents pay. Out of NYCHA’s 328 developments, 257 are master-metered for electricity, which means individual units are not metered, and the Authority pays for electricity for the whole campus’ consumption. PRO did not analyze what impact this new system would have on resident expenses.]

MP: Air-conditioning units tend to stay in the windows all year round. So when you have a leaky building that’s not performing well from an energy perspective, and you have a big hole in your window with a big AC unit in it, it sort of layers problems on top of problems.

NR: The third thing balconies can do is become a general cladding strategy on the building. NYCHA is interested in recladding its buildings and balconies, which could include both open and semi-enclosed spaces [as] part of that strategy.

A cutaway rendering showing how a balcony could be added to an existing unit
The plan proposes new balconies for every unit. These additions would provide private outdoor space for existing units and also hold energy-efficient and modernized heating and cooling equipment.

Have you thought of the actual numbers involved in developing this concept?

MP: We were advised by the RPA to not go down that path too far.

We, and the RPA, intentionally wanted the primary focus of the work to be about how the architectural and urban-design strategies could be the first step in a wider-reaching participatory design process that would engage multiple stakeholders. For that reason, we steered clear of addressing questions of both construction costs and funding streams, as that could immediately get into the territory of asking “for whom” and “by whom,” which we felt would shift the focus entirely on what affordability mix could be proposed.

The big bottom line is: Where does the money come from to actually implement things? And that, in my opinion, is the biggest hurdle to change, and a solution that architects and architecture — we’re not necessarily equipped with the tools to come up with complicated financial modeling or dealing with funding sources for projects like this.

The elephant in the room with many of the proposals and ideas for NYCHA is the privatization of public goods. What do you say to those concerns?

NR: It’s all about how you’ve established revenue streams in order to fund the repairs and improve the existing buildings. And the money has to come from somewhere. It requires creativity, and private development is not the only way to do it. But there is a lot of land available on NYCHA sites, so it’s one strategy that NYCHA has worked with in the past as a way of generating income. You have to forefront resident needs in the existing buildings in order to have that conversation.

I think sometimes the conversations between public versus private, and the sort of politics around that, are a distraction from the core issue, which is that there are 450,000 people who live in these buildings that are falling apart, and we need to figure out how to fix them.

NYCHA has released quite a few design guidelines over the past few years — everything from codifying the best practices for rehabilitating buildings to setting a vision for the future, like the Connected Communities Guidebook. How does your work with this report build on what has come before? And how do you view the role of this document?

NR: All of those documents — Connected Communities, NextGen NYCHA, the Sustainability Agenda — were sort of our up-front due diligence: understanding them, reading through them, and taking them into consideration. And the RPA itself also did a year of work, before we came onboard to generate the policy recommendations and reports to City Council, to get resident input. There’s a tremendous amount of information-gathering up front to make sure we were making good choices.

One of the tools that architects have that many other professionals don’t is visualization. And so when we draw through things, and we diagram things, it creates a platform for conversion in a way that text and policy don’t. It can make things suddenly more real. It gives you something to sketch on top of. Our hope is that it can be a tool for doing that and for communicating with different stakeholders.

Then there are very specific recommendations in [our report] that I think just make sense. We didn’t come up with those on our own. NYCHA is already considering replacing the steam systems with split systems, but we’ve tried to create some specific architectural solutions for implementing those things.

So what happens next?

MP: There are several actionable proposals and elements of the proposal that are thoroughly thought through and within reach. The process of getting there could be started by involving all the residents and relevant communities. Our hope is to work with the housing authority to find opportunities for piloting those ideas.

NR: This study was really meant to be a case study and a series of recommendations and concepts for the beginning of a conversation. Now that it’s out there, I’m looking forward to engaging with a wider range of community groups and resident groups to start to implement their perspectives as well. Now that the report is in the public, there are more opportunities for collaboration.

Home Improvement

Is the U.S. Really Planting a Billion Trees, as Trump Said?

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron plant a tree on the South lawn of the White House.Proof that Donald Trump has in fact planted one tree, with French president Emmanuel Macron in 2018. (It died.) | AFP via Getty Images

Or maybe a trillion? Either way, it isn’t happening, and it won’t work.

“We are planting a billion trees, a billion-tree project, and it’s very exciting for a lot of people.” During the climate portion of tonight’s presidential debate — if you could call it a debate — President Donald Trump made this curious claim, one that left knowledgeable people saying “huh?” Is the U.S. really planting a billion trees? And will that do anything to slow the warming climate?

During his State of the Union speech in February, Trump also mentioned something about trees, only the number he mentioned was a trillion, not a billion. “To protect the environment, days ago, I announced that the United States will join the One Trillion Trees Initiative, an ambitious effort to bring together government and the private sector to plant new trees in America and all around the world,” he said. Yet there’s no evidence that the U.S. has launched a concerted federal effort since then, even though Environmental Protection Agency director Andrew Wheeler confirmed a few days later that it was, in fact, happening.

The Trillion Trees Initiative is a real thing named which was announced at this year’s World Economic Forum and sponsored by the United Nations, aiming to plant forests via a global coalition. (Many countries, including Pakistan and New Zealand, have also made their own pledges.) Trees, of course, naturally sequester carbon by drawing in carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases that warm the planet. Certainly it is good to have more of them, particularly in urbanized or industrial areas, to replace those lost to development and deforestation. They can lower the temperature by several degrees, increase biodiversity, clean the air, and mitigate droughts, and (needless to say) they look nice. But what Trump is talking about is called “afforestation,” which means planting a large number of trees, often of a single species, sometimes in places trees have not grown before, as a climate-change solution. These tree fields are often pulp or lumber plantations more than they are actual forests. And when that is assessed as an overarching silver-bullet climate solution, the science just isn’t there.

After a 2019 study went viral, claiming that planting one trillion — not billion, trillion — trees globally could capture one-third of all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, tree-planting-as-emissions-offset became a trendy environmental pledge. But climate scientists quickly refuted the study — the carbon math does not quite pencil out, there aren’t nearly enough acres suitable for reforesting, and doing so does not reproduce the ecologies of naturally occurring forests, which take centuries to grow and include much more than trees. (A better solution, one study proposed, would be to return deforested lands back to the indigenous people who have managed them for centuries. Don’t wait up for this to happen.) But more critically, scientists say that “just planting trees” is more performance than solution — it gives climate-change-denying leaders like Trump a way to look like they’re acting without doing nearly as much actual emissions-reduction work as they appear to (which is why Republicans introduced a “carbon-capture” bill that included planting trees without any other climate action). It’s as cockamamie as his claim that better “forest management”— basically raking leaves, the way he claims the Finnish president told him to — will single-handedly stop wildfires. None of this will do what Trump says it will do.

Trees will be key to helping the world adapt to the global warming that decades of failing to act has already locked in. But if the United States did, hypothetically, want to slow and reverse climate change, it should reduce the emissions that cause that climate change. Which is something that Trump’s opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, plans to do.

Home Improvement

Expect More Piles of Garbage — Proverbial and Otherwise — as NYC’s Budget Crisis Unfolds

Black trash bags lie in the street in front of a dark building. The image is used to illustrate New York City’s precarious budget situation, after the coronavirus pandemic has caused many cuts to trash collection. Getty Images

What if we lose too many rich people?

To the delight of the city’s rat population (and the dismay of the rest of us), garbage was not getting picked up as quickly as usual this summer. Facing a sudden budget shortfall resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council cut $106 million from the Department of Sanitation’s budget in June, leading to reduced trash collection. The mayor has since walked back some of the cuts under pressure from business executives. But the piles of garbage — literal and proverbial — may only grow bigger. This may be the beginning of a prolonged budget crisis for the city.

New York is facing an estimated $13.5 billion revenue loss through 2022. Typically, it takes three or four years for a recession to impact the city’s tax revenue. But because the pandemic closed businesses and confined people to their apartments (or drove them out of town) almost overnight, there was an immediate impact on the city’s tax collection. “This [crisis] came fast and furious,” said Maria Doulis, vice-president of the Citizens Budget Commission. “It was unprecedented to suffer a steep decline in current-year revenue in the middle of the fiscal year. Now it’s very serious.”

Beginning in mid-March, sales and income-tax revenue fell precipitously, requiring the state to make immediate adjustments to the budget. At the end of June, the City Council and the mayor agreed to a budget for 2021 that included a variety of cuts and shifts that would save the city $1 billion. But there are no easy answers for what comes next. Making matters worse: de Blasio and Cuomo don’t get along, the NYPD’s political grip on City Hall remains firm, and it is possible that Donald Trump might be reelected.

The wealthy leaving the city:

The New York Times estimates that roughly 5 percent of New York City residents left town this spring and summer. This is evident in Manhattan’s housing market, where vacancies are rising, rents are falling, and sales prices are (finally) in decline. Seeing their work dry up, some moved to places where rent is cheaper to wait out the crisis. Many of the most affluent spent lockdown in second homes which now — after more than six months —could technically be considered their primary residences. The “flight to the suburbs” narrative is a bit overblown, but it’s still happening some in New York City. The longer it takes for these people to return (or be replaced by other high-earning professionals), the more damage the city’s budget will endure — damage that could lead to drastic cuts to services like trash pickup and the subway system. Those cuts, in turn, could incentivize more New Yorkers to leave the city (either temporarily or permanently), creating yet more holes in the budget — a vicious cycle.

Rich people may be part of the reason the city is unaffordable, but they also pay a lot in taxes and tend to spend more when they eat out, shop for clothing, hire personal trainers, buy art, remodel their homes, or go to the opera. In the worst-case scenario, this cycle spirals out of control, ushering in a new depression rivaling the mid-1970s crisis that almost led New York City to bankruptcy.

Where those well-off people reside — and where they end up paying taxes — will have an outsize effect on city (and state) budgets. Personal income taxes made up 13.8 percent of all revenue for the city in 2016, and workers earning more than $500,000 paid 47.7 percent of the city’s personal-income tax. On the state level, personal-income taxes made up 30.7 percent of revenue in 2016, and workers earning more than $500,000 paid 46.2 percent of New York State’s personal-income tax. If the city and state can no longer collect taxes from the wealthiest residents — many of whom have decamped to homes in Connecticut and Florida — their budgets will have to compromise dramatically. Sales-tax revenues would presumably fall as well, and property-tax revenues might fall, too, should the loss of population cause home valuations to drop across the board.

New York City has been steadily losing population for a few years now — in part because it has become unaffordable. And recent legislation aimed at taxing the wealthy — like the 2019 “mansion tax” and the new cap on state and local tax deductions implemented by the Republican tax law in 2017 — may offer further incentive for wealthy New Yorkers to relocate.

Cuomo versus de Blasio

The mayor and the governor are both Democrats, but they are hardly chummy. The two openly feuded over MTA funding in 2017 and even wrestled over who had the authority to shut down the city when the pandemic hit in March. Their relationship — or lack thereof — could have huge consequences in the coming budget crisis.

While the State Legislature has given the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Cuomo the authority to borrow money to cover short-term operating expenses during the pandemic, it has so far balked at the idea of giving that authority to de Blasio — despite his repeated pleas to borrow $15 billion. Cuomo has lectured the city on the ills of borrowing to cover operating expenses, but the city has had borrowing authority since the 1970s and hasn’t yet fallen into fiscal oblivion. It took out $2 billion in loans, for instance, in the aftermath of 9/11.

Trump to City: Drop Dead

Might the city get a bailout from the feds? The city benefited from a federal-aid package earlier in the pandemic, receiving $1.9 billion. But Congressional efforts to pass another aid package have stalled.

More concerning is President Donald Trump’s hostility toward his home city, which he abandoned early in his presidential term for Florida. Trump, in his reelection campaign, has declared that he is the only man who can save the suburbs from the carnage in the “Democrat cities.” Carnage that is, to a large extent, nonexistent. His Department of Justice labeled New York City an “anarchist jurisdiction” this month. But walking the streets of Manhattan, where many New Yorkers are happily sipping $25 cocktails at outdoor streeteries, one might wonder where — exactly — the “anarchy” is.

Can we tax our way out of this?

New Jersey recently raised taxes on millionaires, and a group of lawmakers is pushing New York State to do the same.

But raising taxes on millionaires at this particular moment in time could backfire, given that the budget crisis has been largely triggered by … millionaires leaving the city to avoid paying taxes here. The fear is that rich people have the resources to pick up and move, and you don’t want to drive even more of them to Palm Beach for good. There are other options as well. For instance, taxing marijuana — but we’d have to legalize it first, and it wouldn’t be a silver arrow for the city’s budget problems even if it was legalized.

Or stick it to the labor unions?

If the city can’t find the money, it will have to resort to more cuts. The revised 2021 budget — announced in June — doesn’t actually contain all that many, according to Doulis, and the plan calls for that $1 billion to be found in unspecified labor savings. A failure to find those savings could result in as many as 22,000 layoffs, according to de Blasio. The Citizens Budget Commission notes that more than 95 percent of municipal employees don’t pay anything toward their health-insurance premiums, and a modest contribution would result in $531 million in savings. The unions would no doubt have something to say about that.

The revised budget also cut $474 million from the NYPD budget. Most of that comes from specifying a one-time reduction in overtime expenses that won’t recur; overtime spending for the NYPD has ballooned in recent years, from about $600 million in 2014 to $820 million in 2020. Amid a wave of protests across the country sparked by George Floyd’s murder in May, activists have been calling for cuts to NYPD’s budget. But it’s a politically thorny path to take for de Blasio, particularly given his fraught relationship with the cops.

In fact, almost every path forward for the city is thorny. And external factors beyond the mayor’s control will ultimately determine how the budget crisis pans out. Chief among these factors is, of course, how the pandemic unfolds. If the city is forced into another lockdown, it’s not hard to see how the situation could spiral out of control.

In other words, be prepared to deal with more garbage.

Home Improvement

The 10 best alternatives to Airbnb

An interior view of an apartment for rent in Rome through the Plum Guide. The apartment has a large red rug and furniture arranged on it. A 2,160-square-foot apartment in Rome available for rent through the Plum Guide. | Courtesy of the Plum Guide

Where to find your ideal vacation rental.

Thanks to well-known companies like Airbnb and Vrbo, short-term vacation rentals are here to stay in America’s cities. Slick apps and cheaper pricing make booking a vacation property easier than ever, whether you’re paying to sleep in someone’s extra room — the true definition of the “sharing economy” — or renting an entire house.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for companies looking to take advantage of the short-term-rental market. Airbnb is undeniably popular: Now in 100,000 cities, with seven million rental listings worldwide. At the same time, the company and its competitors have battled local zoning laws that prohibit short-term rentals and fought grassroots movements aiming to limit where and how short-term rental companies can operate.

On top of this, Airbnb has come under fire for its role in campaigning for lax rental laws, been criticized for exacerbating the already tight housing market in America’s biggest cities, and faced serious accusations of racism—highlighted by the #AirbnbWhileBlack hashtag. For some, Airbnb’s lack of transparency and questionable practices have pushed people to look elsewhere for vacation rentals, even as the company works to combat these problems.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up alternatives to Airbnb and Vrbo, the two biggest players in the short-term rental industry. Whether you use this list as part of a deliberate choice to support an Airbnb competitor — or just because all your favorite Airbnb listings are booked — it’s a helpful guide to other options in the vacation rental market.


This new site mixes the amenities of hotels with the conveniences found in rental apartments. Sonder offers a fully automated check-in process and provides high-speed WiFi, towels, in-suite-laundry, and coffee in every rental. They are currently in most major U.S. cities, but have also expanded abroad with rentals in Dubai, London, Dublin, Mexico City, Rome, and Toronto.

Sabbatical Homes

A listing service originally dedicated to temporary housing for visiting scholars, Sabbatical Homes provides short-term and medium-term home rentals and exchanges in 57 countries to both academics and non-academics alike. Low listing fees keep costs down (fees are slightly higher if you are not an academic), and members work out rental terms with each other. Once a member has found a match, they can decide on an honor-based success fee of any amount that support Sabbatical Homes and keeps the site advertisement-free.


This Portland-based vacation rental company may not be as large as Airbnb—it offers around 25,000 vacation homes around the world—but it offers a few key differences. Instead of relying on the home sharing system, Vacasa curates the properties and pays over employees to clean and maintain them. According to Fast Company, Vacasa workers earn at least $15 an hour at their jobs in order to comply with the company’s fair wage initiative.

Even though Vacasa isn’t a peer-to-peer home sharing company, it still offers good prices on vacation rentals and claims to provide more consistent quality than competitors like Airbnb.

The Plum Guide

This London-based startup bills itself as the Michelin Guide for vacation homes. The company selects its properties based on a 150-point criteria and a team that visits each home to test everything from the neighborhood to the WiFi speed, with a sharp eye for interior decor. With properties in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Rome, Milan, Copenhagen, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Berlin, and more, the Plum Guide also has a customer service that team that is available via call back, email, or a live chat.


Founded in the summer of 2016 in response to racism experienced by people trying to book lodging on Airbnb, Innclusive is a peer-to-peer rental platform with an admirable goal: “We’re building a place where you can travel with respect, dignity, and love, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity.”

The ever-growing site makes sure that people can’t discriminate when booking lodging by only showing identity photos after bookings have been confirmed; it also offers instant booking on almost all of the listings, and prevents hosts from denying a booking to one guest and offering it to another.

Kid and Coe

It’s the eternal problem for parents everywhere: Hotel rooms are pricey but many vacation rentals don’t offer enough amenities and convenience to be worth the hassle. Enter Kid and Coe, a site launched in 2013 that offers plenty of kid-focused amenities. Listings tell parents exactly how many people — and what age — the property can handle, and the site offers extensive descriptions of toys, baby gear, and beds.

We love the amount of information provided on each property, with paragraphs on “Perks for the Parents,” “Why Kids Love It,” “Things to Know,” and even “Style Notes” describing the decor. The downside? Inventory can be limited and some of the listings are more expensive than on other sites.


If architecture and design is just as important as relaxation on your vacation, Boutique Homes could be the site for you. With a highly curated collection of design-driven homes — listed by invitation only — Boutique Homes offers dramatic locations and stays in some of the most beautiful properties in the world.

Beyond architectural gems for your next vacation, Boutique Homes also provides an impressive list of event venues available for rent. While the number of listings is substantially less than other sites, jaw-dropping photos and fun descriptions more than make up for the lack of quantity.


Now owned by TripAdvisor, FlipKey is similar to Airbnb but offers guest reviews and property owners who are verified by FlipKey staff. Beyond this, expect the same experience as the other big competitors, and the site also offers payment protection. Note that FlipKey doesn’t provide shared rooms, but you can use lots of filters to find the perfect dog-friendly, kid-friendly, or waterfront property.


If cost is your biggest deciding factor, consider booking with Homestay. There aren’t any private houses or apartments on this site, and every stay is a hosted experience. But by booking with Homestay, you get an in-the-know local who can give advice and help you navigate the city. There aren’t as many options in some cities, but the prices make Homestay a reasonable option.


With an emphasis on city apartments, Wimdu has about 350,000 properties around the world and is especially popular in Europe. There’s a nice selection of well-priced properties, from a room in an Amsterdam apartment to a whole-house getaway in Croatia. Helpful filters let you pick the type of property, price, and amenities like whether there is a washer and dryer or an elevator.