I'm an Airbnb advocate. For sure. A space created by travellers, for travellers. To stay in privately owned accommodation instead of chain hotels. To gain local knowledge from hosts when you're travelling. What's not to love? It's the perfect platform for travellers right? In fact I love it so much after staying in Airbnb accommodation almost exclusively for our travels over a few years, we decided to set up our own Airbnb property. We built in under our existing home and now rent out our space on Airbnb. We live in paradise, why not share it with other travellers right? [Have a sticky-beak if you're in the market for a Sunshine Coast holiday!].
BUT.. (why do great things always need to have a but???) I've been thinking quite a lot lately about the impact Airbnb is having on the permanent housing market. This isn't a new problem, nor is the housing shortage entirely Airbnb's fault, but as a responsible citizen, (of both the world and my local community) I feel obligated to question the scenario we find ourselves in and ask if there is a way we can do it better.
I read an article today quoting a blogger who describes Airbnb as a ‘sinister force’ affecting renters and first-home buyers in Australia. Eeeeekkk! Full disclosure: the article was published on Domain which is a property website so they obviously have a vested interest in being critical of Airbnb. However some of the facts are a bit alarming. Here are a few to summarise:
- According to a Sydney University report, more than half the empty rental properties in Sydney’s holiday hotspots are likely to be listed on Airbnb
- In Sydney listings are almost doubling year on year - currently sitting at around 23,000
- In mid last year, researchers discovered that Sydney had a total of 1,268 entire homes available on Airbnb, almost one and a half times as many as the city’s vacant residential rentals.
- The research also found nearly one third of Airbnb listings in greater Sydney are held by owners of multiple properties, with frequently listed holiday lets paying $600 more per month than permanent rentals.
- In Barcelona there were reports of entire apartment blocks of tenants being evicted from their homes so the units could be put on Airbnb. (enter regulations - mid last year the Mayor of Barcelona put a cap on the number of new registrations for holiday rentals. And letters were sent to city residents asking them to dob in their numbers if they suspected properties were being illegally rented!).
Obviously I am very keen to be part of a community that enhances the experience of travel. And of course economically for me, the rental return helps offset our mortgage. Win-win right? But I'm not so keen to contribute to a housing crisis that sees local people displaced. My latest guests at our Airbnb were a German family who have been living on the Sunshine Coast for a few years. Their rental lease was coming to an end so they took the opportunity to go back to Europe for a few months and planned to find a new rental property when they got home. But they came and stayed at our place for two weeks because they haven't been able to secure a permanent rental. The agent told them that this time last year there were 20 properties on the market and now she only has four. That sounds like a shortage to me!
Airbnb has already lost court battles in San Francisco and New York and has faced restrictions in Berlin, Amsterdam and London. Murray Cox, creator of independent monitoring website InsideAirbnb.com is hugely critical of Airbnb. Born in Sydney but now living in New York, Cox created the website when he became concerned that in his hometown of Brooklyn, instead of ordinary residents making more money (as Airbnb proudly profess), the hosts in Brooklyn were mostly white and the poorer black people were being driven out.
So...Do you see my conundrum? And unfortunately I don't have any great answers at the moment but I hope that we can start a healthy discussion. I want to act ethically in whatever I'm doing! That means in the way I travel and the way I host other travellers. So what's the answer? How do we keep Airbnb a healthy, growing community of travellers? How do we ensure the platform is not taken over by wealthy property owners just seeking to maximise their ever-growing property portfolio? Should Airbnb be regulated across the board? Should we be limiting the number of properties owners can list on the platform? Or should we protect it from regulation?
I'm so keen to hear your thoughts and experiences both with Airbnb and renting permanently.