What Airbnb Did to New York City


There are two kinds of horror stories about Airbnb. When the home-sharing platform first appeared, the initial cautionary tales tended to emphasize extreme guest (and occasionally host) misbehavior. But as the now decade-old service matured and the number of rental properties proliferated dramatically, a second genre emerged, one that focused on what the service was doing to the larger community: Airbnb was raising rents and taking housing off the rental market. It was supercharging gentrification while discriminating against guests and hosts of color. And as commercial operators took over, it was transforming from a way to help homeowners occasionally rent out an extra room into a purveyor of creepy, makeshift hotels.

Several studies have looked into these claims; some focused on just one issue at a time, or measured Airbnb-linked trends across wide swaths of the country. But a recent report by David Wachsmuth, a professor of Urban Planning at McGill University, zeroes in on New York City in an effort to answer the question of exactly what home sharing is doing to the city.

To map this process, Wachsmuth and his team used estimates of Airbnb activity from AirDNA, a California-based firm that scrapes and analyzes Airbnb data. They studied Airbnb activity from September 2014 to August 2017, including more than 80 million data points, for the whole 20 million population of the New York City metro region. They also used a number of new spatial big-data methodologies developed specifically to analyze short-term rentals.

Their conclusion: Most of those rumors are true. Wachsmuth found reason to believe that Airbnb has indeed raised rents, removed housing from the rental market, and fueled gentrification—at least in New York City. To figure out how, the researchers mapped out four key categories of Airbnb’s impact in New York: where Airbnb is concentrated and how that’s changing; which hosts make the most money; whether it’s driving gentrification in the city; and how much housing it has removed from the rental market.