Airbnb disputes claim it increased rents in New York City

Airbnb is accused of costing New York City residents an additional $616 million in rent in 2016. Photo credit: Getty Images/JANIFEST

A new report from the New York City Comptroller's office criticizing Airbnb for gutting New York housing supply is being disputed by the home-sharing company. 

The survey drew on data scraped from 55 New York City neighborhoods and some 50,000 active Airbnb listings. The report said that that Airbnb was responsible for nearly 10 percent of all rental increases in the city between 2009 and 2016. The report also claims that New York lost roughly 183,000 affordable housing units offering rent less than $1,000 per month, and between 2009 and 2016 rents rose 25 percent on average citywide (or $279 per month). The report states that Airbnb listings increased from 1,000 in 2010 to more than 43,000 in 2015, declining slightly in 2016 to 40,000, noting that many of these were “in violation of existing state or city law.”

The report singled out several neighborhoods where rents rose at substantially higher rates than the borough average between 2009 and 2016: Greenpoint and Williamsburg (up 62.6 percent, or $659 per month; Bedford-Stuyvesant (up 47.2 percent, or $407 per month); Bushwick (up 39.5 percent, or $369 per month); Murray Hill, Gramercy and Stuyvesant Town (up 25.9 percent, or $488 per month); Chelsea, Clinton and Midtown Business District (up 23.4 percent, or $398 per mont); Chinatown and Lower East Side (up 23 percent, or $242 per month); and Battery Park City, Greenwich Village and Soho (up 21.4 percent, or $411 per month).

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Overall, the report finds that between 2009 and 2016, approximately 9.2 percent of the citywide increase in rental rates can be attributed to Airbnb, particularly in Manhattan and Brooklyn. 

“For years, New Yorkers have felt the burden of rents that go nowhere but up, and Airbnb is one reason why. From Bushwick to Chinatown and in so many neighborhoods in between, affordable apartments that should be available to rent never hit the market because they are making a profit for Airbnb,” Scott Stringer, New York City comptroller, said in a statement. “Airbnb has grown exponentially at the expense of New Yorkers who face rising rents and the risk of being pushed out of communities they helped build. If we’re going to preserve the character of our neighborhoods and expand our middle class, we have to put people before profits. It’s that simple.”

Stringer’s report pulled data from AirDNA, a website that tracks data an analytics around Airbnb that was used to scrape listing information on a daily basis directly from Airbnb. The tool gathered information based on ZIP codes going back to 2010, when Airbnb first began listing rentals in New York. The methodology led to the observation that when the share of units listed on Airbnb increased by a single percentage point, rental rates in the neighborhood also rose 1.58 percent.

Airbnb Total Listings by Year, 2010 – 2017. Photo credit: New York City Comptroller

The Sharing Economy Weighs In

Chris Lehane, head of global policy and public affairs at Airbnb, said the report assumes every Airbnb rental unit is a unit of housing removed entirely from the rental market, something he likened to “assuming every car in New York City is always on the move, and never parked.” Lehane pointed out that Airbnb’s own data show hosts rent for 60 nights a year on average, with the break-even point for short-term versus long-term rentals hovering around 216 nights a year. Lehane said this figure suggests that Airbnb hosts are not renting at the rate others suggest they are.

Secondly, Lehane said that despite Airbnb’s presence, rents have decreased in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one of the most prominently cited hotspots for Airbnb rental activity. In Airbnb’s study, rent for a one-room apartment in Williamsburg averaged $2,979 in January of 2011. By March 2018, rent in Williamsburg had been lowered slightly to $2,947, with Lehane estimating somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 active listings in the neighborhood.

“This is a misleading document,” Lehane said. “The report is wrong on the facts, wrong on the analysis and wrong on the methodology. We’re in baseball season right now, so that’s three strikes and you’re out.”

Andrew Kalloch, a policy manager at Airbnb, said New York City residents use Airbnb as a means of supplementing their income to pay their rent, and are now being “faulted for a crisis that is decades in the making.” According to Lehane, the average Airbnb host in New York earns $6,700 a year on average.

“Many of our hosts depend on this,” he said.

The average rent in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, decreased slightly between 2011 and 2018. Photo credit: Getty Images/deberarr

Bad Blood

New York City’s combative relationship with Airbnb has been evident from the moment its first few listings began to pop up. In 2015, New York invested $10 million in a hunt for illegal hotels, and the following year New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing the city to fine hosts up to $7,500 for listing apartments that violate its short-term housing regulations. Also in 2016, New York blamed the home-sharing service for a 4-percent drop in hotel taxes collected by the city.

Recently, Airbnb launched the Office of Healthy Tourism to manage its impact on local economies, as well as its relationships with cities and states in which the company operates. However, when asked if Airbnb has calculated its direct impact on rent in New York, Lehane pointed to third-party reports.

“When we look at this… we don’t see ourselves having a material impact on this issue,” he said. “In fact, we think it’s quite the opposite, which is that we’re helping peoples stay in their homes who otherwise would not be able to stay in their homes because of the broader macroeconomic trends taking place in New York.”

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