The temptation to describe home-sharing platforms like Airbnb as “Uber for houses” is a logical one, but also wildly inaccurate, as the COVID-19 lockdown has laid bare. An estimated two-thirds of Airbnb hosts offering entire homes own two or more; one third of single-family dwelling hosts own a whopping 25 or more properties. As The Wall Street Journal reports this week, Airbnb hosts are not immune to the devastation of nearly countrywide shutdowns due to the novel coronavirus. The hosts profiled are not particularly sympathetic protagonists; instead, this is a portrait of both greed and naïveté combining with an unvetted, largely unregulated industry.
This toxic mix, when faced with an economy paused by a pandemic, reveals a high-stakes sliver of the gig economy that currently feels more like the “Beanie Babies of real estate.”
In “destination” cities with emerging and surging housing crises, Airbnb has long been blamed for removing long-term rentals from the housing market. As Cheryl Dopp tells The Journal, her Jersey City Airbnb property could rake in $8000 a month from short-term rentals; she’d only make half of that with a typical, long-term tenant. Who wouldn’t take what Dopp calls “magical money?”