May 26, 2016

Is it just me and my public radio job, or is the rent getting higher? (No, it's not and yes, it is.) Luckily, services like Airbnb - which allows users to temporarily rent out their apartments to tourists - are providing some much-needed relief.

Or are they?

Let’s crunch the numbers. If you rent your spare room on Airbnb, you can earn twice as much as you might pay for your apartment normally. That means - if you’re lucky enough to have a spare room to rent out - your apartment may be able to pay for itself, without much help from you.

But according to Steven Hill, author of Raw Deal: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers, that might not be a good thing.

“This creates a big problem because in any city you have a limited housing stock… so to suddenly pit the needs of local residents’ against tourists’ is creating a tremendous amount of destruction across… the cities where Airbnb operates,” explains Hill.

He says the problems in the rental market go even deeper - so deep that they’re reshaping our cities.

“Professional landlords are just evicting people…. They’re turning the apartments into Airbnb hotels,” says Hill.

Nick Papas, a spokesperson for Airbnb, thinks Hill has it exactly wrong. Papas argues that renters prefer units that are “lived-in” and have character, noting that those professional landlords just don’t do well on the site.

He does, however, agree that Airbnb is changing cities. He just believes it’s for the better. 

Some “[Airbnb’ers] are only able to afford to stay in their home, and in the city and the neighborhood that they love, because they can rent their home out on Airbnb.”

Whether or not Papas is right, local governments aren’t willing to take him at his word. San Francisco is threatening daily fines of $1000 if landlords don’t register their rentals with the city. And New York passed a law in 2010 that renders the majority of Airbnb listings in the state illegal..

So far, neither of those measures seem to have deterred renters much. Now, some New York politicians are lobbying to hold Airbnb accountable for the illegal listings, rather than the tenants.

As Hill points out, every city has “limited housing stock.” By pitting tourists against local residents, Airbnb is creating some big political waves. And they’re fighting back.

Last month, Airbnb donated $230,000 to local San Francisco campaigns via the PAC, “The Committee to Expand the Middle Class.”

But they also recently announced that they’ll look into people who list homes on the site that they don’t actually live in. And they’re cracking down on “revolving door” apartments, or places that only rent to short-term visitors.

So, is Airbnb singlehandedly ruining your rent? Or trying to strike back against corrupt landlords? Well, we’re still not sure. But it’s clear that, through real estate and politics, the company is having a pretty big impact on cities.

Recognize that voice? Steven Hill joined us a couple months ago to talk about why the freelance economy might not be a good thing. Check it out!

Airbnb, technology, Steven Hill, Kara Miller, WGBH, Nick Papas, pri

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