Is Airbnb as a gentrifying villain or a neighborhood ally? The ongoing debate rages on with a newly published report from McGill University. The study found that in New York, Airbnb increases rent, quickens gentrification and makes most of its revenue from listings that are likely illegal. Airbnb questions the legitimacy of the report, which was funded in part by the Hotel Trades Council and cosponsored by housing advocacy groups like the Cooper Square Committee.
Analyzing housing data from Sept. 2014 to Aug. 2017, a team led by professor David Wachsmuth concluded that Airbnb has caused a $380 yearly rent increase for the median New York tenant. The report estimates that the home-sharing company caused the removal of between 7,000 and 13,500 units from New York City’s long-term rental market, causing housing prices to go up. Airbnb caused a $610 increase in the median East Village yearly rent, a $510 increase in Lower East Side median yearly rent, and a $330 increase in Williamsburg median yearly rent, the study claimed.
An Airbnb representative dismissed the report as inaccurate and pointed to the “thousands of New Yorkers that are doing this to help them afford their rent.” A 2017 study from New York University counters the McGill study. The NYU study found that in order to match the revenue they’d get from long-term rentals, hosts would have to book their homes over 216 days a year, meaning there was little incentive to displace renters. On the other hand, the McGill study claims that “the median host of a frequently rented entire-home/apartment listing earned 55 percent more than the median long-term rent in its neighborhood last year.”
The McGill report also showed that two-thirds of Airbnb’s revenue in New York is likely to come from illegal listings. A report released by the New York state attorney general’s office in 2014 found that 72 percent of Airbnb listings in New York City were illegal.
New York state law prohibits renting entire apartments for less than 30 days, and in 2016 harsher penalties were introduced for customers advertising short-term rentals. Private rooms and shared spaces remain fair game as long as the host is home.
“That there is no difference between the number of illegal listings in 2014 and 2017 is disappointing,” said Justin La Mort, a supervising attorney at Mobilization for Justice, a law firm involved with the new study. La Mort said he hoped the study would push Airbnb to go after illegal units.
Although he said Airbnb was not “innately evil,” he did feel it was being misused. “A small number of people renting out their couch, that’s not having an effect on the housing market. People with multiple homes pushing renters out, that affects a neighborhood.”
Airbnb insists that they are dedicated to working with elected officials to create legislation that protects New Yorkers who want to share their homes and earn extra income and opposes those that operate illegal hotels. In 2015, they said they had taken down 2,233 listings that appeared to be hosts with multiple listings.
They also stated that their data shows that 96 percent of hosts only have one home listed. Most hosts share their space only occasionally, with the median nights rented at 47. The median annual earnings citywide is $5,474. On the other hand, McGill said the top 10 percent of hosts earned 48 percent of last year’s revenue, while the bottom 80 percent of hosts earned 32 percent. Airbnb said this was incorrect, and that 12 percent of New York revenue last year was earned by hosts with more than one home listing.
McGill also cited a study from InsideAirbnb.com calling the rental website a “racial gentrification tool.” Research showed that across 72 predominantly black New York City neighborhoods, Airbnb hosts are five times more likely to be white. Although the white population is around 14 percent, 74 percent of Airbnb hosts are white. This translated to an income disparity of 530 percent where white Airbnb hosts in black neighborhoods earned an estimated $160 million, compared to only $48 million for black hosts.
Amid allegations of racism last year, Airbnb hired activist and artist Donald Glover as an advisor for reaching communities of color. In a blog post Glover said he would ensure “members of these communities are taking advantage of the economic opportunity of hosting on the Airbnb platform.”