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A snapshot of Atlanta’s Airbnb listings raises questions about regulation and affordability

A screenshot of a SaportaReport/Atlanta Civic Circle map of Airbnb locations in Atlanta on June 12, 2022. (Map by Maggie Lee)

By John Ruch

Atlanta has a new short-term rental regulation born of concerns about community impacts like party houses. Its enforcement is on hold for similar reasons — just from the industry side, whose multi-property owners might be shut out of the market.

Such community anecdotes and interests often drive short-term rental policymaking due to scant data available from market leader Airbnb and a still-new field of academic study working to catch up. A SaportaReport/Atlanta Civic Circle snapshot of Atlanta Airbnb listings for one day last month doesn’t have all the answers but raises important questions about overlooked factors like the role of apartments and condos and impacts on housing affordability in stadium neighborhoods already seeing gentrification.

The June 12 snapshot found about 4,300 properties listed on Airbnb, which we mapped to their approximate locations. Airbnb does not provide exact address data, which it says is for privacy and some academics say “obfuscates” analysis of the company’s community impacts. That number may vary significantly with seasons or special events.

By comparison, Nashville recently had about 6,800 listings and New Orleans had about 6,700, according to similar counts conducted by Inside Airbnb, a website run by activists critical of the company. Chicago and San Francisco, which saw listings drop after licensing and regulation systems were introduced, had about 6,400 to 6,500. Austin, Texas had nearly 12,000. Murray Cox, the activist who runs Inside Airbnb, says he hopes to have Atlanta data available within six months and might prioritize that if it would aid a public discussion here.

The Atlanta listings roughly track with population density and tourist attractions, with the thickest clusters in Midtown, Old Fourth Ward and the Atlantic Station area. There were smaller clusters around Buckhead’s Lenox Square and Lindbergh neighborhoods.

Much of Atlanta’s pressure to regulate short-term rentals is driven by bad behavior at houses or mansions that hold wild parties, but the map clusters make it clear that many Airbnb locations are in apartment and condo towers, not single-family neighborhoods.

That tracks with national data, according to Georgia State University economics professor Keith Teltser, who studies Airbnb’s housing effects. He pulled listings data for 27 of the U.S.’s biggest metro areas from 2014 through 2017 via AirDNA, a company that scrapes Airbnb’s website and sells the information. He said 51.4 percent of the listings were classified as apartments — and 56.4 percent of those were listed by owners offering only a single property, meaning those owners were most likely to be using short-term rentals to supplement their income rather than as a business.

In Atlanta, that means Airbnb is in apartment towers having less-discussed effects on quality of life, rents and renters’ ability to pay. They are also the most likely the kinds of Airbnb offerings to disappear after licensing requirements because they are often black-market activities already banned by landlords and condo associations. The Atlanta Metro Short Term Rental Alliance (AMSTRA), the industry group that has successfully delayed enforcement of Atlanta’s regulation, has noted that such listings have declined in other cities with licensing systems.

Major international controversy about Airbnb centers on housing affordability. Airbnb — which did not respond to questions — and its supporters say its service stabilizes households by providing a new source of income by renting a room or a home while they’re away. Critics say Airbnb is likely inflating rents and home prices by the virtually effortless ability to charge hundreds a night for a property. That concern is heightened by the growing influence of commercial hosts who own and rent many properties at once. Inside Airbnb’s analysis of several large U.S. cities has found multiple-property hosts representing 50 to 80 percent of the listings.

Our Atlanta data did not include multi-property operators, but the numbers are suggestive. A majority of the listings — about 3,700 — were for whole homes, not spare rooms. About a third were listed by “Superhosts” — a company status for those who rent frequently and receive many good reviews.

Atlanta’s regulation limits people to renting two properties, one of which must be their primary residence. One of AMSTRA’s major objections is to the lack of grandfathering for existing multi-property owners. The group has expressed skepticism about Airbnb’s connection to affordability problems.

Academics are finding a more complex situation and a growing body of research connecting Airbnb to higher housing costs and lower supply.

Teltser, the GSU professor, is the co-author of a new working paper on Airbnb and affordability that has found indications of a double-edged sword. Especially in areas where Airbnbs are clustered, home prices and rents increase due to the new potential income, but signs of financial distress for homeowners — like foreclosure warnings — were less likely to result in the loss of a home in such areas. That could be because owners can supplement their income with Airbnb rentals, or it could be because they sold at a higher price and left. Either way, dense Airbnb clusters have fewer foreclosures than would be expected, the research found.

“It’s pretty clearly financially beneficial for existing homeowners, in terms of home value, but it’s ambiguous for new homebuyers,” Teltser said.

Teltser and his colleagues also looked at the effect of the regulation systems in Chicago and San Francisco. In those cities, listings went down by about 40 percent after regulations, and house prices in those dense Airbnb clusters declined by about 10 percent. However, notices of foreclosure and completed foreclosures went up.

A team of researchers at Canada’s McGill University has tracked evidence of Airbnb reducing housing supply and increasing its costs, and indicators that it can be a new factor in gentrifying neighborhoods. In a 2020 paper, they reported that nearly half of Airbnb’s revenue in the previous year came from commercial, multi-property operators. They estimated, based on high-frequency rentals, that Airbnb listings have removed 17,000 to 34,000 housing units from the long-term rental market in Canada. Most of those — 7,800 to 18,900 — are concentrated in the major metro areas of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. That’s a small percentage of the total housing units, they acknowledge, but they are not evenly distributed and have a much bigger impact at hyper-local neighborhood levels, especially when vacancy rates are low. Cities would have to build thousands of new housing units to keep up — with many of those surely becoming short-term rentals as well.

The researchers also are investigating the gentrification potential of Airbnb, as it creates “effectively out of thin air” a potential revenue stream for a property and a means of achieving it almost instantly — much faster than traditional developers and investors. As they note in a 2018 paper, “…the only necessary step for converting a long-term rental to a short-term rental is to remove the existing tenant… In other words, Airbnb enables gentrification without development.”

That effect can overlap with other, traditional factors to create “supergentrification,” they suggest, with concentrations in tourist areas and gentrifying neighborhoods.

The Atlanta listings suggest that effect may be underway here, with many homes listed in once-shunned Westside neighborhoods that are now the subject of gentrification controversies in the wake of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a new Microsoft complex and other forces.

One recent listing offered a house in Bankhead for $196 a night that “sleeps 10” and touts its proximity to the stadium. A house in Vine City going for $159 a night, with room for eight, was showcased with a photo of the stadium looming over the backyard. That one has many reviews from tourists referring to the neighborhood as “sketchy” or “cleaning up.” One visitor last year said, “The neighborhood is scary! Their [sic] are projects on the next block and condemned homes across the street and next door.”

Atlanta has a long history of directly destroying and indirectly gentrifying neighborhoods for stadiums and related tourist mega-events like the 1996 Olympics, where informal home rentals were popular, if more complicated, well before Airbnb existed. Now Airbnb is a big factor in such event tourism housing also – and recently became an official Olympics sponsor. With Atlanta set to host such events as part of the 2026 World Cup soccer tournament, short-term rental pressure on adjacent neighborhoods will likely increase. Today, the Westside Future Fund has an anti-displacement program for homeowners and renters — with a waitlist for the latter closed due to demand — but the fund did not respond to questions about any Airbnb effect on that work.

The McGill researchers note that study of Airbnb and other short-term rental effects is still new, and they suggest other questions to explore. Among them: Is Airbnb more or less likely to displace residents than other gentrification factors? What kind of regulations are effective? And what are the effects on the labor market with such factors as non-union labor for short-term rental cleaning and management?

Maggie Lee contributed data analysis, mapping and reporting.

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3 Comments

  1. jennifer brooks July 29, 2022 12:33 pm

    How can I prevent the City from issuing a Short Term Rental license in the building where I live that prohibits STRs?
    The listing platforms don’t monitor eligibility of properties for STR. The City’s licensing process doesn’t block my building from applying.
    Will the STRL and enforcement be sorted out before the Democratic National Convention comes to town in 2024?Report

    Reply

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