Airbnb’s racism problem is much bigger than a few racist hosts.
David Robinson

Airbnb is destructive in tight housing markets in a way it is not elsewhere. I considered turning a home I own in Colorado into a 420-friendly Airbnb (visitors to my home state are unable to enjoy Amendment 64 in hotels) but when the Denver housing bubble hit and prices went way up, I decided to keep renting to families instead, currently at under market rates. As much as I do think marijuana tourism is good for Colorado, affordable family housing is much more important. Suburban homelessness has skyrocketed in the Denver area.

When housing markets aren’t so tight, Airbnb can be a real life saver. I stayed in one in Minnesota that was a home for sale – the owner was having trouble selling the place and the Airbnb income helped him be able to take a better job without fearing collapse under two mortgages. There were vacant, reasonably priced apartments all over the neighborhood. Totally different picture of the impact of Airbnb than in my current city of residence in LA.

Here’s a thought: If real estate investors want to run Airbnb “apartment hotels,” in tight housing markets, charge a special Airbnb tax (not just hotel tax) and dedicate the entire revenues from it to affordable permanent housing. Maybe even require hosts with more than a certain number of properties to also operate an equivalent number of permanent rentals. Want six Airbnbs? Awesome, but you’ll need to operate four permanent housing units, too. That might take the middle out of the market, leaving only traditional spare room/”I’ll go stay with a friend and my guest gets my place” hosts & major investors, but I’m not convinced the middle is very big now.

Thorny problem. I doubt there is a perfect solution. Many ordinary people now rely on Airbnb income – there’s no magically going back to affordable housing (and there never really has been much of it in this country, at least not for the working poor). But it’s clear that more regulation is needed, especially in urban areas already experiencing a housing crisis.

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