Rental prices are skyrocketing. There is an estimated shortage of 7 million affordable housing units for low-income renters. Thousands of people in areas with tight rent protections are facing sudden evictions. And inflation makes everything even more expensive.
America faces a severe housing affordability crisis. And AirBnB doesn’t help.
In May, Curbed reported that there were now several thousand fewer apartments available for rent in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and northwest Queens than there were entire homes on AirBnB for rent in New York City. The number of spaces available for long term rental (only 7,669) was provided by real estate agency Douglas Elliman.
Thanks to AirBnB’s notorious secrecy — and occasional hindrance — surrounding its offerings, the number of short-term rentals available on AirBnB had to be removed from the platform during the same period (20,397) by Inside AirBnB, a data-driven project that has been measuring the company’s impact on shared apartments since 2013.
You may be familiar with the design of Inside AirBnB’s maps, countless small red dots scattered on a white and green map of various American and global cities. That’s because the group’s work has gone viral in recent months, as more and more people delve into AirBnB’s role in the housing crisis.
“All AirBnBs in New Orleans, a housing-critic city.” a popular post shows a screenshot of a map littered with red dots. “Huh, wondering where all the shelters have gone?” Using the same card, another user comments: “The block where I grew up in New Orleans is literally half AirBnBs. A plantation economy in twenty thousand points.”
An Irishman used this screenshot from Inside AirBnB shows over 15,000 short-term rentals across the country to clap a report saying there are just 851 apartments available for rent across Ireland. “I’m not saying AirBnB is causing the housing crisis, but it’s not helping!” he commented.
These concerns are not just online complaints. Ever since AirBnB was founded in 2008 as a platform ostensibly to make it easier to rent out a vacant room for a short period of time, AirBnB has dressed up as a bastion of the so-called “sharing economy” and shown how it helps ordinary people, a little extra To earn money.
Over the past fourteen years, however, the platform has increasingly been accused of changing the very essence of certain cities — from New York and San Francisco to Barcelona and Venice — while driving up rental prices. The fact that it is more profitable to rent entire houses or apartments to tourists for short periods of time than to rent the same properties for longer periods of time to people who actually live in those cities has led to apartments being taken off the housing market, what real estate appreciation has become a driving force, contributing to the displacement of the working class from city centers.
AirBnB did not respond to Daily Dot’s request for an attribution explanation for this article.
AirBnB’s impact became even more apparent at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when AirBnB began allowing people to cancel their short-term rentals, leaving many landlords unhappy. In the weeks that followed, cities like Dublin, Edimburgh and London saw a 45% to 64% increase in new listings for long term rentals.
As a more complicated narrative emerged around the sharing economy, projects like Inside AirBnB have been central to helping journalists, politicians, local authorities and ordinary people get a clearer picture of the company’s presence in their cities.
“When I started, I think most people were unaware that they were having issues with AirBnB. Most journalists, when covering it, talked about the problems the hotel industry posed to the company, like not paying their taxes or competing unfairly with hotels,” Murray Cox, the data and photojournalist of Inside AirBnB 2014 founded for the first time, told the Daily Dot. “I don’t think people really understood how AirBnB was used by people in most cities to rent out multiple whole houses.”
The purpose of his website was to add data to this debate. For years, Cox had documented the gentrification of Brooklyn, where he lived, through photography. After hearing that a journalist was working on a data-backed investigation of AirBnB listings in San Francisco, he began scraping the data, which the company wouldn’t provide, to show how his neighborhood was changing too. In March 2015, he released the first of many Inside AirBnB maps, sorting the discarded listing data by property type, price, number of reviews, and most importantly, by number of hosts with more than one listing to their name. The data was easy to read and available for anyone to browse and use.
“I never imagined what would happen next,” says Cox. “Honestly, I didn’t even plan to collect the data on a regular basis. I thought AirBnB would try to sue me or shut down the project somehow – but they didn’t. They would rather use their massive PR machinery to try to discredit the project and the work of any researcher who writes negatively about them.”
For example, in recent years, University of Manchester researcher Luke Yates showed that AirBnB had cultivated so-called “grassroots lobbying initiatives,” which essentially provided resources to curated groups of individuals and businesses renting out spaces on AirBnB. In turn, these seemingly bottom-up groups would lobby local and national governments to deregulate or block sanctions against the platform. AirBnB is also known for having lobbied heavily for the European Union to soften regulations put in place by the cities of Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, and Brussels to counteract the company’s impact on their urban landscape.
Today, Inside AirBnB provides data for more than a hundred different cities and is working on a way to collect data for entire countries. As media attention grew, so did inquiries from activists and local authorities around the world. They, too, were hungry for the data they couldn’t get any other way.
“I think data is critical because without data you’re relying on anecdotes or the stories being peddled by a huge multinational,” Cox said. “Without data, people would just think that AirBnB is a cool way to travel and that it helps the economy and helps regular people pay their rent and mortgage. Without the data, you would think this story is true. But you can see from the data that in many cities, AirBnB is largely made up of people managing huge real estate portfolios.”
A December 2020 report that Cox and colleague Kenneth Haar were working on revealed “how AirBnB has pushed up rents, harmed urban communities and ruined affordable public housing programs.”
Among other things, the report showed that even after controlling gentrification, the presence of AirBnB in Barcelona led to a 7% increase in rents and a 19% increase in house prices. In Paris – a city with a notorious housing problem – 15,000 to 25,000 apartments have been taken off the housing market because of AirBnB. In Prague there were 15,000.
That’s because few regular people actually use the platform to rent out a vacant room every now and then. In Amsterdam, the report says, an estimated 87% of AirBnB revenue comes from full-time short-term rentals and large property portfolios. In Barcelona, 75% of the listings were said to be commercial properties. In Prague, more than half of the apartments were managed by hosts who had more than one apartment advertisement in their name.
“I really wish there wasn’t a need for a project like mine,” the data activist told the Daily Dot. “In the future, I would hope that AirBnB will provide real data and that countries will start thinking about what data platforms should provide so that they can measure the impact on society. I think that’s crucial, especially when it comes to the central point of housing: not everyone needs a place to vacation, but everyone needs a place to live.”
Regarding the recommended rules for policymakers, Cox wrote that three components have proven crucial: forcing platforms to disclose data, holding platforms accountable, and enforcing a mandatory registration system to track hosts.
The data journalist was directly involved in driving a mandatory registration system for New York City that was passed by the City Council in December 2021. The system would make it easier to spot tens of thousands of listings that are illegal under state law.
“As an activist fighting the impact of short-term rentals on shared apartments and affordable housing around the world, I applaud the New York City Council for passing this important piece of legislation that will put valuable housing back on the market and allow New York City to join.” like Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam with world-class laws that reaffirm a commitment to the right to housing,” Cox said at the time.
But as for a number of other cities, as Inside AirBnB shows, there’s still a long way to go.
Read more about the Daily Dot’s technical and political coverage
https://www.dailydot.com/debug/inside-airbnb-housing/ How Inside AirBnB helps highlight AirBnB’s impact on housing