While the legal battle between Airbnb and New York City continues to heat up, BK Reader decided to hit the streets of Central Brooklyn to get the opinions of local residents on the long-term viability of the home sharing service in New York City.
“[Airbnb] is actually encouraging Americans to travel and experience other places, because it’s cheaper”
Surprisingly, we found, although nearly everyone had heard about Airbnb, a lot fewer people than expected actually understood how the service works. So, for those who are unsure, Airbnb is a free online service that allows renters to list their furnished units on the Airbnb website and for short-term rentals (setting their own price), while potential users can bid for those apartments listings online. The service is popular, primarily because the cost to stay in an Airbnb apartment is dramatically cheaper than staying in a hotel. Also, it’s a way for local residents to earn extra money when they are away from their homes.
On December 19, 2016, the state passed a new law making it illegal for Airbnb hosts to advertise entire, unoccupied apartments for less than 30 days on Airbnb or any similar platform. It has always been illegal to rent short-term, but now it is illegal to advertise. And breaking the law carries a penalty of up to $7,500.
Local and state elected officials who stand behind the law, along with anti-Airbnb activists groups, including Housing Conservation Coordinators, The Coalition Against Illegal Hotels, West Side Neighborhood Alliance and Beware Bnb claim that unregulated home sharing fuels an increase in rents, while creating a shortage of available housing stock.
So, of those residents who were familiar with the home sharing service, we asked whether Airbnb, in their opinion, has had a positive or negative impact on Brooklyn’s housing affordability?
Although opinions varied on the longterm effect the service has on the city’s housing economy, one thing everyone seemed to agree upon was this: Airbnb was saving residents money and making residents money.
“It’s been a really good option for people who want a little bit more of the boutique feel, versus the commercial feel of a hotel,” said Carl Utz of Fort Green, who uses Airbnb when he travels. “I think sometimes it works very nicely, and other times, it doesn’t, because you don’t really know what you’re gonna get.”
For those who rent out their homes as Airbnb hosts, the service has become a necessary convenience to offsetting the rising cost of rent: “For a personal individual who wants to rent out their apartment as additional income, I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all,” said Clyde Ennis of Fort Greene. “It’s one of the ways to survive in this city, and I think it’s a good thing, because in every other way, the city tries to take the money that you do have.”
Danielle Teah of Prospect Heights agrees. She said that although she has not yet become an Airbnb customer, her friends have, and they speak highly of the benefits, including the low cost of room and board, which allows travelers to spend more money on food, tours and events, instead of on the hotel.
“[Airbnb] is actually encouraging Americans to travel and experience other places, because it’s cheaper,” said Teah. “Most of the time when you’re staying at a hotel, you’re kind of distant from locals. [Airbnb customers] can experience local communities and meet local people.”
“Safety is the main reason why I haven’t done it. I just don’t know if it’s safe.”
Still, others who have not used the service express concern about its safety and legality: “Air BNB in my opinion is straight up illegal,”said Edward Smalls, a resident of Gowanus. “…Looking at the totality of it all is just risky– people allowing other people to live in shared spaces for short amounts of time and leave no paper trail. And if damages occur or someone gets injured on the premises, who is to blame when the short-term tenant can just up and leave?”
Teah agrees that safety remains the biggest reason she also has not yet become a customer: “Safety is the main reason why I haven’t done it. I just don’t know if it’s safe. I do know that they provide reviews (of past customer experiences) and that Airbnb looks up people’s history and if they have a record. But I still don’t know how I feel about doing it myself.”
But none of the residents interviewed that day expressed the issue of housing costs or shortages as a concern. In fact, one resident suggested that legislative efforts to limit Airbnb usage had more to do with politics than residents’ pocketbooks and that elected officials were caving to pressure by the hotel lobby industry.
“I think lobbyists are teaming up with hotel companies that are realizing their funds aren’t reaching their quotas,” said David Luxama, a resident of Prospect Lefferts Gardens. “The new law was only put in place because hotels that would cap a certain amount of money would be threatened.”
So what’s in Airbnb’s future in Brooklyn, longterm? Overall, it seemed residents’ opinions of Airbnb’s viability longterm varied, depending upon their familiarity with, use of and/or need for the service.
However, again, if there was one takeaway from almost everyone surveyed, it is that living in New York City, financially, is hard, and any option that empowers residents with the ability to at-will save or make money… is never a bad thing.
This is the third story in the series, “Airbnb vs. New York City,” where we are examining the unique state of home sharing in Central and East Brooklyn– the opportunities and drawbacks– for local residents.
Other stories in the series: