Airbnb has been the subject of heated debate in the past few months. The company, a marketplace that allows travelers to book spaces from hosts all around the world, has been accused of hurting opportunity for hotels and affordable housing alike. When talking about Airbnb, the “space” up for rent is loosely defined, as accommodations can range anywhere from an entire home to a blowup mattress or couch in the corner of someone’s living room. The online network grants travelers cheaper and homier accommodation options than traditional hotel and motel options.

Airbnb is based on a “sharing economy” and “radically local” model. In this framework, the hotel industry is cut out of the hospitality market and the only people involved in the transaction of accommodation are the user-guest and user-host. The model promotes global community and localism among its users. This model has faced obvious opposition from the travel and hospitality industry. Airbnb’s model affects over 1,300 employees servicing over 60,000 rooms in 192 countries.[1] The hotel industry views Airbnb as an illegal way to convert residential units into more profitable short-term rentals.

In addition to opposition from the hotel industry, Airbnb has faced continued opposition from affordable housing proponents in the recent months.  Many feel that that the company, a service designed to allow hosts to rent out additional space in their apartments or homes, takes away potential affordable units from the housing market. Many of the spaces for temporary rent are permanent residences, which means a smaller housing stock.[2] Six months ago in San Francisco, a tenant sued his landlord for unlawful eviction from his rent-controlled apartment, claiming that she evicted him so that she could put the space up on Airbnb’s website. The ex-tenant argued that the owner shuffled around existing tenants and listed two of the four units in the building on Airbnb for a nightly rate considerably more than the rent-controlled monthly rate. The landlord argued that the space was for her family member, however the case is a clear example of how sites like Airbnb have negatively affected the affordable housing industry.[3]

Airbnb agrees that they contribute to the affordability of housing in the cities they serve- but in a positive way. “We strongly believe that Airbnb makes communities more affordable and we know it has already helped families stay in the home and community they know and love,” they stated in a policy note published on February 13th, 2014. The company claims that for some hosts, Airbnb provides them the additional means to pay their bills and avoid foreclosure or eviction. According to their site, 56% of Airbnb hosts in San Francisco said that they use the income earned from Airbnb renting to help pay their mortgage or rent. 46% of Airbnb hosts in Paris said they their income for rent and mortgage payments. And 62% of New York Airbnb hosts said Airbnb helped them stay in their homes.[4] The shared economy model of Airbnb also potentially frees up space for development of affordable housing rather than expanding hotel real estate.

What must also be discussed are the efficiency benefits of localization and the shared economy model. The localization model reduces excess waste from the hotel industry and increases the efficiency of existing assets such as second homes and empty rooms that already have an existing carbon footprint.

There is an argument to be made for both the positive and negative effects that Airbnb has on affordable housing nationwide. Perhaps while there may be intent to keep housing affordable, the reality is that this causes more harm than good. What do you think? Do you think Airbnb and its supporters have the right to protect a “sharing economy” and localization in order to help many people continue to afford their housing? Or, does the reality of the company’s organization model enable the wrong people, such as landlords or second homeowners to benefit from space that could be made affordable? Let us know what you think and comment below!

 

 


[1] “Airbnb and the Success Case for Translation Crowdsourcing.” Airbnb and the Success Case for Translation Crowdsourcing. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. <http://info.moravia.com/blog/bid/351550/Airbnb-and-the-Success-Case-for-Translation-Crowdsourcing>.

[2] “This Is War: New York Coalition Launches Campaign Against Airbnb.” Mashable. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. <http://mashable.com/2014/09/12/new-york-airbnb-war/>.

[3] “Airbnb profits prompted S.F. eviction, ex-tenant says.” SFGate. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. <http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Airbnb-profits-prompted-S-F-eviction-ex-tenant-5164242.php>.

[4] “Airbnb and housing – The Airbnb Public Policy Blog.” The Airbnb Public Policy Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. <http://publicpolicy.airbnb.com/airbnb-housing/>.