Simply put, Airbnb has revolutionized travel.
Airbnb’s short-term rental housing provides crucial income to those with room to spare and normalizes travel for millions who prefer (or need) low-priced accommodations. But like most things in life, a low price can come with a cost.
Recently my wife and I rented a spare room in New Orleans. Our room was an exception; most listings were “entire house” properties, essentially an apartment converted to a hotel. A 2018 report by the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative [JPNSI] confirmed that more than three quarters of New Orleans short-term rentals are entire house units like these.
These units had to come from somewhere, and the JPNSI suggested many came from low-income housing evictions, dramatically impacting those of color. The organization wrote a statement on the issue:
“The removal of whole homes from the private rental market for short-term rental use have made New Orleans unaffordable to low- and moderate income households and unwelcoming to communities of color.”
To be clear, renting via Airbnb can still be ethical — even renting a whole house. Many units are live-in homes rented only when the owner is away, or during local events when the city’s overbooked anyway. What’s more troubling is the trend of single operators with multiple listings, which are often former apartment complexes acquired in bulk by out-of-town investors.
The practice isn’t unique to New Orleans. A 2018 Curbed article noted that Airbnb’s top 25 accounts each owned more than 100 properties. The top Airbnb earner owned a whopping 1,062 properties! That’s a far cry from renting out your spare room during a homecoming game.
Ethically-Sourced Living Space
There’s no backsies on the Airbnb concept. The demand they created will exist even if they disappeared tomorrow. However, there are ways to help ensure you’re using Airbnb ethically:
- Research: If you’re checking out a future destination, see how locals feel about Airbnb there. Is it a boon or a burden? This issue is particularly notable in heavily-touristed areas.
- Think small: Renting a spare room means you’re staying at a home, not a property.
- Use the onsite tools: Check user profiles and feedback to determine what the host offers. Is the host listing a couple rooms, a basement or an entire block of properties?
- Know One Host, One Home: Airbnb instituted a “One Host, One Home” policy in New York City and San Francisco, meaning the owner can’t offer more than one property in the area. While not a perfect solution, the policy helps avoid landlord conversions where former tenants pay the price. Watch for this policy in more places, as cities flex their municipal muscle.
The story goes that Airbnb’s co-founders rented their place for cash while trying to come up with a winning business idea, suddenly realizing they just did. Rewarding homeowners who give travelers a low-priced place to stay is still a winning idea, albeit complicated by massive growth. By choosing your Airbnb wisely, you can stay true to the original, ethical spirit of the home-sharing economy.
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