There is a commonly held view that short-term rentals (such as the ones you might find on platforms like Airbnb) are bad for housing affordability because they take long-term rentals out of the market and they help to drive up property values. And there’s evidence for this. A study published in Harvard Business Review found that home-sharing alone might be responsible for about 20% of the average annual rent increases across the US.
Findings like these have encouraged municipalities around the world to put restrictions in place for STRs. But like most policy issues, there are nuances. And the thoughtful answers are rarely as obvious as they may initially seem. This has been part of my complaint around inclusionary zoning. It sounds good when politicians say it: let’s just get developers to build us free affordable housing. But again, there are nuances to consider.
Short-term rentals are similar. A recent follow-up study that was again published in Harvard Business Review has actually uncovered some interesting longer-term benefits to STRs.
Using residential permit data, Airbnb listings, and STR policies across the US, the team found that when you look over a longer time horizon, Airbnb listings actually tend to increase the supply of residential housing. On average, a 1% increase in Airbnb listings led to a 0.769% increase in permit applications. Supply is of course good for a whole host of reasons, one of which is boosting the local tax base.
Conversely, they found that restricting STRs tended to reduce the supply of new housing and renovations. After new regulations were put in place affecting STRs, Airbnb listings fell on average by about 21% and residential permits fell by 10%.
Restrictions also seem to have a direct impact on the construction of things like accessory dwelling units (laneway and garden suites for us here in Toronto). When analyzing data in and around the borders between jurisdictions in Los Angeles County, the researchers found that areas without STR regulations saw 17% more ADU permit applications compared to the areas that had restrictions.
For the 15 US cities that the team studied, they conservatively estimated that STR restrictions reduced property values by about $2.8 billion and impacted tax revenues by about $40 million per year. Some cities, like Chicago, have also found success using STRs as an economic development strategy in distressed neighborhoods, which would further bolster the tax base.
All of these findings suggest that a more nuanced approach to STR policies is probably merited.