New data sug­gests Airbnb’s im­pact on Hal­i­fax’s rental cli­mate

Over 50 per­cent of list­ings in the ur­ban core come from land­lords with mul­ti­ple prop­er­ties, in­stead of the sin­gle-home fam­i­lies the app likes to por­tray as its base.

The Coast - - THE CITY - BY SAN­DRA C. HANNEBOHM

Airbnb

likes to po­si­tion its hosts as ev­ery­day peo­ple of­fer­ing up their homes for a lit­tle cash when they take a va­ca­tion or leave on a work trip. But new data as­sem­bled for The Coast shows the ex­act op­po­site.

Over half of the Airbnb list­ings in the ur­ban core seem­ingly be­long to prop­erty own­ers with mul­ti­ple list­ings. The ex­act fig­ures, how­ever, are dif­fi­cult to pin down.

The ac­com­mo­da­tion-shar­ing web­site has a rep­u­ta­tion of sup­press­ing or skew­ing data to make it look like real­tors and land­lords don’t use it.

“They are quite se­lec­tive in how they present things,” says Tom Slee, critic and author of What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Shar­ing Econ­omy.

Slee has a PhD in the­o­ret­i­cal chem­istry but ended up work­ing in the soft­ware in­dus­try for years be­fore start­ing his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Airbnb three years ago. His in­ter­est led to the dis­cov­ery in 2015 that the com­pany qui­etly purged thou­sands of list­ings in New York just be­fore pub­lish­ing an of­fi­cial re­view of its op­er­a­tions in that city.

Slee says that around the world there are two ma­jor com­plaints about Airbnb: Mul­ti­ple prop­er­ties listed by sin­gle hosts, and year­round list­ings. But de­ter­min­ing what per­cent­age of a city’s list­ings be­long to ei­ther cat­e­gory is tricky. As a pri­vate com­pany, Airbnb has the free­dom to pick and choose which stats to share with the pub­lic.

When Airbnb talks about the num­ber of peo­ple with mul­ti­ple list­ings for ex­am­ple, says Slee, “they al­ways say it as a per­cent­age of the hosts.” That’s not re­ally the in­ter­est­ing num­ber, though.

“The in­ter­est­ing num­ber is what per­cent­age of list­ings be­long to peo­ple with mul­ti­ple list­ings.”

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey Slee ran on Airbnb in Hal­i­fax over the past two weeks, the per­cent­age of hosts who of­fer mul­ti­ple list­ings in the city is fairly small—just un­der 26 per­cent.

But the per­cent­age of list­ings of­fered by those 26 per­cent of hosts ac­counts for 56 per­cent of the Airbnb spa­ces avail­able in Hal­i­fax.

Hosts who of­fer mul­ti­ple list­ings are es­pe­cially likely to be realty com­pa­nies and land­lords, Slee ex­plains. Mean­ing the ma­jor­ity of in­come from Airbnb vis­its to Hal­i­fax is go­ing to multi-unit lis­ters.

Lind­sey Scully, spokesper­son for Airbnb Canada, writes in an emailed state­ment that peo­ple host for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. Still, “the ma­jor­ity of our hosts in Hal­i­fax are shar­ing their homes on an oc­ca­sional ba­sis,” she says. The av­er­age oc­cu­pancy for 2017 was 72 nights, she says, and the “typ­i­cal” in­come for a host was $590 per month.

“The as­sump­tion is some­times made that host­ing an en­tire home is an equiv­a­lency for a home be­ing shared full-time or year-round,” Scully adds, “which is not the case.”

While Airbnb shared some stats with The Coast, Scully says the com­pany is un­able to pro­vide how many hosts have mul­ti­ple list­ings, or where the hot spots are in Hal­i­fax–data Slee was able to get from Airbnb’s web­site over the week­end.

In­cluded in his re­search is a heat map show­ing which ar­eas see the most vis­its in the city. The south and north ends of Hal­i­fax are hottest, val­i­dat­ing grow­ing con­cerns in those neigh­bour­hoods about a lack of rental hous­ing.

Anec­do­tal re­ports from res­i­dents about how Airbnb is chang­ing the res­i­den­tial mar­ket in Hal­i­fax have in­cluded ev­ery­thing from south end apart­ment build­ings re­pur­posed as full­time Airbnb ho­tels to land­lords in the north end telling ten­ants with ex­pired leases they won’t be able to re­new be­cause the units are go­ing Airbnb.

Slee’s data col­lec­tion only shows a slice in time, of course, based off of avail­able list­ings and es­ti­mat­ing vis­its from the num­ber of re­views. (The lat­est re­search on the sub­ject sug­gests 55 per­cent of Airbnb vis­i­tors leave a re­view.) There are many blind spots in such a lim­ited win­dow, he points out, in­clud­ing know­ing how many list­ings are rented out oc­ca­sion­ally ver­sus how many are listed year­round.

Airbnb’s web­site is largely dom­i­nated by “en­tire home” list­ings but lacks spe­cific in­for­ma­tion such as ad­dresses, last names and phone num­bers, mak­ing it nearly im­pos­si­ble to tell which hosts are full-time op­er­a­tions. Some may even rent out list­ings un­der dif­fer­ent names and ac­counts.

That data would defini­tively show how of­ten real­tors or land­lords use the site, and whether Airbnb was af­fect­ing the avail­abil­ity of rental apart­ments. As of right now though, it’s un­avail­able.

For prop­erty own­ers there are plenty of in­cen­tives to switch from leas­ing to Airbnbs. Com­pared to what they would have gone for as rental units, land­lords of an Airbnb unit can ren­o­vate, re­dec­o­rate and earn back more than a year’s worth of rent in just a few months, even if the spot sits va­cant for the rest of the year.

Mean­ing that while the ac­com­mo­da­tion­shar­ing web­site might be good for tourism, it may also prove bad for rental hous­ing. To Slee, that seems con­tra­dic­tory to the found­ing pur­pose of the site: “Airbnb likes to say, ‘Come and live like a lo­cal.’ But if they’re driv­ing out lo­cals while they’re do­ing that, that is a prob­lem.

Know any land­lords con­vert­ing prop­er­ties to Airbnbs? Con­tact hous­[email protected]­coast.ca

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