The Market

Airbnb is great for NYC's affordable housing crisis (at least, according to Airbnb)

By Lucy Cohen Blatter | December 4, 2015 - 12:59PM

Is Airbnb partly responsible for New York City's exorbitant rents or is it a lifeline for New Yorkers trying to make ends meet here in the Big Apple? Depends on whom you ask.

Chris Lehane, director of global policy for Airbnb, was on  Brian Lehrer's WNYC show (a Brick favorite), arguing the latter. He says that 72 percent of hosts using Airbnb income to make ends meet, with the average person making about $5,000 a year on it. 

"Over 70 percent of our hosts say they use this income to stay in their home, their unit and stay in the city," Lehane says. (Note: Hosts have to pay taxes on their income as long as they're renting out their place for more than 15 days, says CPA Jonathan Medows, so this would presumably cut into the money a person makes off the site.)

Just this week, Airbnb released data on its New York City users, and found that 99 percent of hosts on the platform have two or fewer units they're renting out, disproving they say the idea that illegal hotels are popping up via Airbnb.

This thinking is directly at odds with many New Yorkers (and a couple of WNYC callers) who claim that short-term rentals take up much needed housing stock, and the shortage in turn helps drive up prices for more traditional, long-term rentals.

Lehane says the company is hoping to crack down on hosts using the site illegally—renting out their places for less than 30 days. They're also willing to pay hotel taxes, he tells Lehrer. "Illegal hotels are not in our interest, in our hosts' interests, not in our guest interest, and certainly not in the city's interest," he says.

Not all politicians agree that Airbnb is doing enough. City councilman Mark Levine said in a statement, "Their business practices are taking away precious affordable housing from hard-working New Yorkers and driving up the cost of rent."

And Katie Goldstein, executive director of grassroots tenants organization Tenants & Neighbors, tells BrickUndergorund that the biggest problem with Airbnb is that the company has, in the past, tried to overturn New York State's illegal hotel law, and hired many high powered lobbyists to do so.  

"The illegal hotel law prohibits landlords from operating rent regulated apartments as illegal hotels," she says, adding that in other parts of the country where there are no "strong laws," Airbnb has effectively taken affordable housing off the market, as landlords evict tenants and turn their residential buildings into illegal hotels.

"If Airbnb is simply concerned for working class and middle class New Yorkers, Airbnb would commit to cracking down on illegal operators who are a major threat to New York City’s affordable housing stock," she tells us.

Listen to the WNYC podcast below:


Airbnb just scored a major victory in San Francisco

Find out how much Airbnb has caused rents to rise in your neighborhood

New map lets you scope out your neighborhood's Airbnb situation

Airbnb, HomeAway, OneFineStay, FlipKey: Which short-term rental service is right for you?

How to stay safe when Airbnb-ing abroad

That Airbnb orgy victim? He now says he's "homeless" and on the tenant blacklist

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