The Real Deal New York

Airbnb a big threat to affordable housing: OPINION

Tenant organizers say company is taking low rent apartments off the market

August 11, 2014 10:00AM

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From left: Jonathan Westin, the Airbnb logo and Jaron Benjamin

From left: Jonathan Westin, the Airbnb logo and Jaron Benjamin

Airbnb is taking units off the market in areas where there is already a lack of affordable housing, say Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the Met Council, and Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change.

Airbnb’s effect is most seriously felt in “the neighborhoods where the issue is most critical (like Midtown, the Upper West Side and Greenwich Village),” Benjamin and Westin write.

The two also argue that there are high concentrations of Airbnb units in neighborhoods — such as Harlem, Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant — where rent increases are already forcing out longtime residents.

More than 13,000 units in New York City are being used as illegal hotels, Benjamin and Westin claim, “where they could be used as housing units.”

“If we can’t count on our leaders in Albany and City Hall to stop Airbnb from gutting the illegal hotel law,” according to Benjamin’s and Westin’s op-ed in the Daily News, “we can’t trust them to renew and strengthen the rent laws that expire in June of 2015.” [NYDN] – Claire Moses

  • Jonathan Arnold

    That logic makes no sense.
    It assumes that landlords make the majority of airbnb rentals when in reality the units being offered are rented by current tenants. Sounds like Westin and Benjamin are actually on the state’s or hotel lobbist payroll. Get a real job guys.

    • 1Lionel

      There are plenty of landlords using units in rent stabilized apartments who list their space on Airbnb. Sounds like you’re someone who rents illegally on Airbnb

      • Jonathan Arnold

        Even if I was:
        1. I wouldnt be a “landlord”
        2. I would be renting my “own” apt.
        3. This has nothing to do with being used as “affordable Housing”.

        • just sayin’

          the fact that your profile pic is of you wearing shades makes you “shady”
          lol
          and… airbnb users are warehousing apartments…inventory shrinks, prices inflate and the only winners are the assholes subsidizing their own rents by renting out their places illegally.
          get a clue.

  • Stupidisasstupiddoes

    Hello Mr. NYC. I would like an apartment that I can’t afford to live in. Can you please force other people to pay for it? I mean, fair is fair right. I can’t believe how greedy all these people are who don’t want to pay for my stuff!

  • Bob K.

    The sense of entitlement of these people is truly amazing. Who are they to even comment? If they had a clue about making housing affordable, they would lobby for the removal of any rent control laws, 20% set asides for “affordable units,” anything owned by NYCHA or HPD, prevailing wage laws that benefit unions, community board reviews for every development, etc. This permanent removal of supply from the market, high cost of construction and outrageous demands put on developers is what drives up the cost of housing in NYC. In current time, you mix this with so much foreign money competing for deals here and you have a perfect storm of inflated costs. Change what I mention above and the cost of an apartment would drop by half.

    • FreeTheMarkets

      I’ll dream along with you Bob K. Until there is an acknowledgment of the true source of the city’s problems then we can’t even begin to agree on a solution. The general consensus is that NYC is expensive because people love it here and it simply bids up the price of rentals and condo’s. In true free markets however, when there is an imbalance in supply and demand then resources get directed to the deficient side – in this case, supply. When government intervenes and disrupts the market’s ability to direct resources, then this process gets stifled. It’s a tragedy that this city is run by government and not the free market. Unfortunately, this city and this country is moving more towards central planning and bigger government. Eventually the producers will stop producing and the fate of all socialistic societies will be ours.

    • Franklin Tops

      Both the commenters “Bob K.” and “FreetheMarkets” do not acknowledge the historical origins of the regulations that they are so quick to denigrate. Building codes and rent regulations are a product of what are the now unimaginable living conditions that New York tenants were subjected to in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before the first building codes, and until they were actually enforced by professionalized staff beginning in 1901, even tenants in New York City who had the benefit of a lease were not entitled to heat, water, or bathrooms, and had no protections against rent increases and eviction.

      The enforcement of building standards prevented the construction of the worst of the old-law tenements, but this meant that builders could no longer legally construct housing for the poor and secure a profit. Now, you can either interpret this situation as meddlesome government intervention in the private market, or you can accept the fact that private enterprise cannot provide decent housing within reach to poor people.

      Rent regulation first appeared after WWI in the early 1920s when a severe housing shortage caused rapid increases in rents and tenant evictions. Rent regulations set limits to rent increases, but they also implemented the first written, “iron-clad” lease agreement detailing tenant responsibilities and allowed for landlords to require security deposits. Surely, those are things that also benefit landlords in terms of stable tenancy and contracted rights and obligations.

      Rent regulation in postwar New York City was first initiated during the WWII through federal price controls. There was a recognition that the rental housing market in New York City was not perfectly competitive and therefore limits to rent increases were needed to protect not only poor tenants, but all renters in New York from unreasonable burdens.

      To believe that rent regulations are irrational because they limit supply, it must hold that absent rent regulations private enterprise could produce housing affordable to all income levels. But history shows that this has never been the case. Furthermore, in many neighborhoods the regulated rent and the market rent are not different, undermining the claim that rent regulation suppresses rent below “market”. Rent regulation is irrational only insofar as it is a response to the previous irrationality of the market that failed to produce housing that all residents could access. Finally, the value that land has is a product of many things beyond how the owner has improved his parcel. Why should a land owner reap what is the product of many things beyond his efforts?

      Seen from a historical perspective, it is the failure of the private market to produce an adequate supply of housing that has produced the political powers like rent regulation, building codes and community reviews that attempt to exert some control over development.

      Sources:

      Day, J. N. (1999). Urban castles: tenement housing and landlord activism in New York City, 1890-1943. Columbia University Press.

      Jackson, A. (1976). A place called home: A history of low-cost housing in Manhattan. Cambridge: MIT Press.

      U.S. Census, New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, 2011.

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