The backlash against New York City comptroller Scott Stringer came swiftly.
First, predictably, from Airbnb, but then independent data provider AirDNA, which tracks the company, called Stringer’s entire report into question.
The report’s overarching finding was that Airbnb’s operations in New York increases rents. According to the comptroller, between 2009 and 2016 rents across the city went up by about 9.2 percent due to Airbnb’s rental business, which the report noted was equivalent to about $616 million in 2016 alone.
AirDNA says the underpinning methodology behind the report is flawed due to Stringer’s inclusion of every listing, active or not, in his calculations; his inclusion of all types of properties regardless of whether it’s a room or an entire apartment for rent; and, finally, the company says the comptroller didn’t account for the length of time properties were rented for — some properties are routinely rented seasonally, while others are rented all year-round.
If these factors were taken into account, AirDNA reports that half of New York City’s Airbnb listings are for private rooms and 65 percent of hosts manage only one listing. Under those conditions, the data provider’s CEO Scott Shatford says “it is impossible for Airbnb to have a material impact on rental prices.”
“In New York City, just over 5,300 entire homes were rented on Airbnb for six months or more in the past year, representing 0.2% of the total housing supply,” Shatford said in a statement. “The comptroller is once again using Airbnb as a scapegoat for a housing affordability crisis that has been growing for decades.”
Though recent stats show an improvement in the Big Apple’s affordability with household income growing by 11 percent, vacancy rates at 10-year highs and an all-time record of units slated to become available over the next two years, city officials remain concerned. And with good reason: as the comptroller’s report notes, prior to introducing its analysis of Airbnb, rents increased on average by 25 percent, or $279, between 2009 and 2016.
Stolen data, hidden interests?
Aside from the report’s errors, AirDNA says the comptroller did not pay to use its data. The company told the New York Times the data Stringer used was only available to paying customers and AirDNA confirmed in a statement that they had no contact with Stringer or his office before the report was published.
A spokeswoman for the comptroller told the Times they only used public data off AirDNA’s website and that the office stood by the report.
Meanwhile, Airbnb is questioning city officials’s intent with the report and has filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking communications related to the report’s production from the comptroller’s office.
“Information has been brought to our attention and we have reason to believe that this report was influenced by powerful special interests,” Airbnb’s head of global policy Chris Lehane told CNBC.
So is there an “Airbnb effect?”
The short answer is yes, but the degree of Airbnb’s impact is at issue.
Airbnb itself admits rents do rise because of its rentals: in 2015, the Wall Street Journal published the results of a study Airbnb commissioned to examine its effect on rents in various cities. The study was conducted by Sauder School of Business professor Thomas Davidoff and, in New York, for a one-bedroom apartment, he attributed an average rent increase of $6 to Airbnb.
Subsequent independent studies, however, dispute that number.
According to a 2015 analysis conducted by The Real Deal, Airbnb drove monthly rents in New York up by between $37 to $69, depending on the neighborhood. Airbnb disputed the findings saying the TRD report used “bad data to make inaccurate, misleading conclusions.” A second more conservative methodology used by TRD still showed an apparent increase in rents due to Airbnb’s operations.
Most recently, in a report published in January by researchers from McGill University, an analysis of New York City, Newark and New Jersey between September 2014 and August 2017 found that the median tenant within the study’s area was paying $380 more in rent due to a decrease in housing stock caused by Airbnb’s operations. The report used data from AirDNA and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and was commissioned by Hotel Trades Council and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.