Is Airbnb making housing shortages worse?

A number of cities across the country are taking steps to regulate–or outright ban–Airbnb, the online marketplace that allows people to rent out their properties or spare rooms to short-term guests. Critics argue Airbnb is displacing locals and low-income families. But defenders of Airbnb argue it helps many Americans out by giving them a way to make some extra money on the side, and gives guests more affordable options than a pricey hotel. Is Airbnb making housing shortages worse?


Airbnb shifts tourists from hotels to homeowners. Instead of having to go through the proper channels and regulations, some people on Airbnb list multiple apartments and houses on the website, essentially acting as hotels. These apartments are taken away from locals who need permanent housing and reduce the total number of available units in a city.

A number of cities have either outright banned, or heavily regulated, Airbnb, and now Portland is looking to follow suit. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is proposing new taxes on Airbnb that would go toward the city’s housing budget and fund homeownership for displaced families who have been pushed out in part because of Airbnb.

The city plans to levy a $4-a-night charge per room on companies that facilitate short-term-rental bookings… His office projects those new taxes could provide between $1.2 million and $2.5 million toward the city’s housing budget.
"Short-term rentals take apartments off the market for people who live here–it’s only fair that companies like HomeAway and Airbnb offset their impact by helping us replace the affordable homes Portland is losing to this industry," says City Commissioner Nick Fish, who is sponsoring the tax with Wheeler. "We look forward to a conversation about the best use of those funds."

Portland Mayor Proposes a $1.2 Million Tax on Airbnb and Its Competitors to Fund Home Ownership for Displaced Families

But Airbnb argues it has a positive economic impact on cities by allowing hosts to make some extra money and helping guests save money on a pricey hotel. People sometimes have extra rooms in their houses and apartments, and Airbnb provides middle-class Americans with a tool to make more money and supplement their income.

The housing crisis is real, but it existed long before Airbnb came onto the scene. As Emily Hong argues in Quartz, San Francisco’s housing crisis exists due to failed housing policies, not the existence of Airbnb. In fact, Airbnb has actually helped a number of low-income families by allowing them to turn their couch or spare bedroom into a new source of income.

Hosting on Airbnb may actually help people to stay in their homes, by giving them the opportunity to turn a spare bedroom or couch into a new source of income. This is, in fact, the Airbnb origin story. The company was founded in 2008 when two guys started subletting their living room in order to help make rent.
There are no easy fixes for the housing imbroglio of San Francisco. But the tech industry, city government and longstanding San Francisco communities all need to move beyond adversarial relationships to make progress on a long-term, sustainable planning strategy. After all, the people of San Francisco include tech workers and yuppies as well as working-class residents, immigrant communities, middle-class families and senior citizens–and, yes, even people who use Airbnb.

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