I hadn’t given much thought to the impact of airbnb, especially the unintended consequences, until recently. Rents where I live are roughly equivalent to what I paid 13 years ago in the external suburbs of DC, there are plenty of units, and there aren’t many tourists. Friends of friends have used airbnb and VRBO to offset the expense of value-adding additions in areas with high home values. As travelers, using airbnb allows us to have a more “local” feeling than staying in hotels, saves a little money, and lets us choose from a greater variety of accommodations. We’re not using it for our entire upcoming trip — of 18 days of travel with my husband, 10 nights will be in hotels and 8 nights in airbnb rentals in Berlin and Prague — but I’m looking forward to feeling like we have our “own place” in the city, even if just for a few days.
So, it’s a good time to look at some of the data and opinions out there. I started with the places we’ll be staying. In Berlin, there has been a battle over airbnb for the past couple years, where it is blamed for raising rents and contributing to the housing shortage. Last year, the city Senate required potential hosts on airbnb or other services to register, which didn’t guarantee permission to operate. Two months ago, they reinforced a ruling that allows landlords to evict tenants who were subletting their apartments. One person parsed the publicly available airbnb data on Berlin in an attempt to contribute to the debate (the site is in German). It’s interesting to see the “power users” he identifies, who each list 20 or more units in Berlin. These aren’t individuals renting out their old apartments when they move to a new place or families offering to host guests in their mother-in-law suite: these are businesses running hotels with disconnected rooms. Our Berlin host is part of a network of people who have combined their listings to share management responsibilities. I’ve looked to see if there is any similar any airbnb controversy in Prague, but I haven’t been able to find anything, at least, not in English. Most of the search hits relate to people being skeptical of listings in Prague, a city with a shaky reputation for honest commerce. Our host there is verified and has only one unit for rent with many glowing reviews.
Below are a few of the better articles I’ve found. Most of these have a negative perspective because the positive ones were little more than airbnb ads, but I don’t have a pony in this race. Airbnb is good for me, but it could be terrific or terrible for others. Since the sharing economy has developed so quickly, I’m including the location referenced and the date of publication with each one.
New Orleans, March 2014 – UnfairBnB: What Unlicensed Short-Term Rentals Mean for New Orleans from Antigravity Magazine. This article from an alternative magazine is very negative about the perceived impact of airbnb, criticizing disaster tourism, the “museumification” of neighborhoods, and bringing race and class conflict into the mix. The comments give more depth and different perspectives to the debate.
San Francisco, April 2015 – Airbnb Now Says It Has a Solution to San Francisco’s Affordability Problem from Slate. “People couldn’t afford to live in your city if they weren’t renting out part of their space!” seems to be the airbnb’s latest salvo in the skirmish there.
New York City and beyond, September 2014 – Regulate This! episode of the Freakonomics podcast. They talk about airbnb, EatWith, and Lyft, focusing on regulation and impact.
New York City, February 2015 – The Website That Exposes Airbnb’s Parasitic Impact on New York City from Alternet. This is an interview with the creator of the Inside Airbnb website, which visualizes the company’s listing data for NYC in a map-based view. The title of the article is a bit hyperbolic for the content, though the interviewee says the data clearly contradicts claims made by airbnb.
New York City, October 2015 – Airbnb: Not Necessarily a Wolf, But It’s No Lamb Either on Reevaluate. This blog post looks at housing complaints, safety, and economic impact. It’s not very thorough, but it raises some questions beyond simply the “rent is too damn high” and tax issues.
NYC and beyond, August 2013. The video below is from libertarian Reason and has a more positive spin, partially because they are inherently anti-regulation. They do include a short segment with someone opposed to airbnb, however.