New Orleans hires ex-Sonder executive for land regulation

US: The city of New Orleans has hired Peter Bowen, the former general manager of Sonder New Orleans, to serve as the city’s chief administrative officer of land use.

The move marks a major shift by an urban planning department, allowing a short-term rental professional a voice in future regulation.

In his new role, Bowen will manage and oversee a variety of different departments, including the Department of Code Enforcement and the Department of Safety and Permits, which are both in charge of regulating short-term rentals. He will also be credited as the “founding entrepreneur” of the newly-created Office of Business and External Services, helping to promote the city’s reputation as a business-positive location.

The appointment has drawn criticism from affordable housing advocates, who highlighted his actions during his time with Sonder. In particular, they have referred to the “blitz scaling” of the New Orleans housing market, where Sonder acquired 1,000 apartments in the city in under 36 months, which advocates claim were behind rising numbers of evictions in the city.

Cashuana Hill, executive director of Louisiana Fair Housing action centre, told The Lens: “New Orleans is about to enter an unprecedented eviction crisis, so it’s deeply concerning that the city is putting people like Peter Bowen–who profited off of the evictions of our residents to make way for wealthy tourists–in charge of regulatory and policy reform.”

Bowen’s presentation for the role highlighted his desire to mix regulation with business development, hoping to promote small businesses as well as large. The office has also confirmed that it will not loosen city regulations further, instead helping businesses to operate within those regulations.

Gilbert Montaño, New Orleans chief administration officer and key mayoral aide, said: “Instead of someone saying no immediately, it’s someone saying, ‘Let’s find a way to accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish and still stay within our rules and guidelines, not skirt the system, but let’s get creative on how we can help you succeed. Because you succeeding is us succeeding.’”