Here’s what — if anything — we learned.
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2015 was a huge year for Airbnb. It earned a $25 billion valuation. It was used to book over 1 million stays per night. It launched its services in Cuba.
But 2015 was not a year without obstacles for the tech startup that, for many, has — until this year — represented the softer side of the so-called "sharing economy." Facing regulatory pressure in big cities like New York, L.A., and San Francisco, Airbnb spent much of the year — and its marketing budget — trying to convince the world that the platform is good for cities, good for middle-class families, and good for people in general.
But it's been hard — maybe harder than it should be — to prove that that's true. And meanwhile, Airbnb's opponents have argued that not only is the company not good for regular old middle-income city dwellers, but that its short-term rentals are actually causing a decline in affordable housing in certain cities and neighborhoods.
There's no doubt that some people do rely on Airbnb revenue to stay in homes that, what with rising costs of living, they couldn't otherwise afford. But it's also true that, in certain cases, unchecked short-term renting can have an adverse impact on rent.
Over the course of the last year, city governments, news outlets, and nonprofit organizations of all stripes have strived to figure out whether the net effect of Airbnb is positive or negative. But because Airbnb has been reluctant to share much information about where and how much the platform has been used, they've have had to cobble together a picture of the company's impact by scraping publicly available information from its website. They've been able to draw some conclusions from analyzing that data, many of which Airbnb has actively contested. The company, in turn, has released data reports of its own — reports that, unsurprisingly, tend to confirm that the platform is helping, not hurting, regular Americans.
With all the reports and counter-reports on Airbnb that have emerged this year, what have we actually learned? Given the efforts of housing advocates, attorneys general, data journalists and, to an extent, the company itself, are we actually any closer to understanding the impact of Airbnb?
The easiest way to spot rule-breaking on Airbnb is to count the number of hosts who list multiple properties on the site, since those people are likely not renting out a room in their home, but operating as a small business.
* In New Orleans, 46% of hosts listed multiple properties.
* In Vancouver, 35% of hosts listed multiple properties.
* In Boston, 15% of hosts listed multiple properties.
Murray Cox is the amateur data scientist behind Inside Airbnb. In 2015, he made it his mission to scrape and analyze as much data about short-term renting on the site as possible — from 50 cities globally. He found that, in most cities, hosts with more than one property listed accounted for a third of the overall listings in that city.
In fairness, Airbnb has taken steps to shut down users running such operations.
* Before April 2014, there were nearly 100 hosts with more than 10 properties listed on Airbnb in New York City. After April 2014, when the company cracked down on these "bad actors," there were less than 10 such hosts. But by early 2015, there were 22 hosts with more than 10 properties listed, according to a report by travel site Skift.
Despite Airbnb's attempts, the problem persists. As of early 2015, 29% of Airbnb listings in New York City belonged to hosts who had listed two or more properties, according to The Verge. And as of mid-November, at least 46 hosts were listing six or more entire-home properties in NYC, according to Airbnb's own data.
Those numbers might seem small, but multi-property hosts actually account for a lot of Airbnb's revenues.
* During a recent 12-month period, hosts with more than one entire-home listing in New York City accounted for more than 30% of all New York revenue. (And that includes share-home and shared-room listings.)
* And hosts with at least three entire-home listings accounted for more than 18% of all New York City revenue.
Airbnb seems fairly committed to getting the major offenders off the site, a development that happened in the last year. But the so-called "bad actors" that remain are still making a solid chunk of change off the site.