Activists Say Airbnb Makes New Orleans Housing Shortage Worse

Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Sarah Jeong
The Verge

Airbnb and other platforms for short-term rental listings are exacerbating the housing crisis in New Orleans, says a new report from the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (JPNSI). The analysis in the report falls in line with similar findings in other cities — a substantial chunk of short-term rentals are controlled by operators with multiple properties, suggesting that landlords are choosing to put units on Airbnb and other sites, eschewing long-term tenants.

The rosiest picture of an Airbnb host is a homeowner or tenant running a casual bed and breakfast or letting out a spare room. But Airbnb listings are often put up by landlords who are serially renting multiple properties on Airbnb — and in New Orleans, the statistics are particularly severe: nearly half of all short-term rentals are being offered by hosts with multiple listings.

JPNSI analyzed data from the city of New Orleans (which currently regulates short-term rentals through a permit system), data reports by platforms like Airbnb, and data scraping of Airbnb by the activist group Inside Airbnb. The organization found that only 18 percent of operators are responsible for 44 percent of all licensed short-term rentals. The report also says that short-term rental operators invest in additional residential property to turn bigger profits, and that the properties acquired “are often already occupied by tenants who, summarily, are evicted so that the whole-home can be placed on the STR market.”

JPNSI says the number of multi-listing hosts in New Orleans has risen over the last couple of years — as of this month, the top ten Airbnb operators in the city have a combined 568 listings. The report also says that of these operators, several are “out-of-town corporations that exist solely to turn housing units into STRs.”

When reached for comment, an Airbnb spokesperson said that the JPNSI study “relies on unreliable scraped data to make false conclusions about our community when the reality is the vast majority of New Orleans hosts are sharing the homes in which they live.” (According to JPNSI, the conclusion that 18 percent of operators are responsible for 44 percent of licensed short-term rentals is based on the city’s permit database.) Airbnb also stated that the company was “committed to working with the City of New Orleans” and “protecting long-term housing and neighborhood character,” and that it was working with enforcement agencies to remove unlicensed listings.

In its comprehensive 2015 report, the San Francisco Chronicle found that Airbnb “super hosts” — hosts with three or more listings — accounted for 4.8 percent of all hosts, but controlled 18.2 percent of all San Francisco listings. Tenants in San Francisco have also reported being evicted only to see their former homes later listed on Airbnb. The neighborhoods “undergoing the strongest gentrification pressures” are the same ones with the most Airbnb listings. In 2017, Inside Airbnb concluded that Airbnb hosts in New York City’s black neighborhoods were five times more likely to be white, and that therefore Airbnb rentals in those neighborhoods were contributing to gentrification along racial lines. (The methodology of that particular study has been very much disputed).

Since 2016, Airbnb has banned hosts with multiple listings in San Francisco and New York City. The bans in New York and San Francisco followed years of critical press coverage, with the New York ban announced shortly before Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill imposing fines on hosts who flout local housing regulations.

The multiple listing effect that is now being reported in New Orleans has been hard to pin down in the past. In 2015, Airbnb published internal data about New York listings, claiming that only 5 percent of its hosts were multi-listing. Analysis by two independent people who were scraping Airbnb data found that right before the report came out, Airbnb conducted a “one-time targeted purge of over 1,000 listings,” skewing the result for how many hosts were listing multiple properties.

Gentrification and housing shortages are complex issues. San Francisco and New York — big cities with scarce housing and local governments that are hostile to Airbnb — got bans on multiple listings, and aren’t necessarily seeing a reversal of gentrification. However, one study found that as of this year, hosts with multiple listings are still rampant regardless of the ban. David Wachsmuth, a professor of urban planning at McGill University, found that 12 percent of Airbnb operators in New York are “commercial operators” with multiple listings.

The numbers of the New Orleans Airbnb market — unhindered by any multiple listing ban — are far and away more extreme. And, JPNSI says, New Orleans is seeing an uptick in short-term rentals in historic black neighborhoods. Short-term rentals, the organization says, are “capitalizing on and contributing to the displacement of Black communities.”

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