Airbnb Rentals Trigger Debate Over Housing Stock

Airbnb Inc. made a large slice of its money in the Boston area from properties that were rented for six months or longer in the past year, dwarfing the earnings of small-time casual hosts who are the face of the $30 billion online rental service’s lobbying campaign in Massachusetts, data released by the company show.

Data provided to the Globe show that just over 10 percent of Airbnb rentals in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville were occupied by renters for a total of six months or more over a 12-month period through August, but generated 37 percent of revenue paid to Airbnb hosts in that period.

That money was generated by a small rental pool: 766 units, split about evenly between private rooms and entire homes or apartments. Airbnb didn’t identify the individual units, and it’s unclear how many were already short-term rentals before the listing service came along.

Airbnb did say some fraction of those units were likely boutique hotels or bed-and-breakfast inns, rather than residential homes. The company collects a percentage of each rental, both from the host and the renter.

Still, some local lawmakers have raised concerns that Airbnb and similar services are helping property owners remove permanent housing from an already tight market and disrupting residential neighborhoods.

“When units are being used as virtual hotels, it hurts the housing stock,” said Aaron Michlewitz, a state representative from Boston who has proposed new regulations. “It’s not the only reason, but it’s certainly one of the spokes on the wheel of the housing crisis we have here.”

The Legislature considered several measures targeting Airbnb in its most recent session, including one to impose hotel taxes on its rentals, but those failed to pass. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said this week that taxing and regulating short-term rentals was one of the key issues lawmakers would tackle in the new legislative session that begins in January.

This article appeared in the Boston Globe on October 13, 2016.

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