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The Problem With Airbnb

photo of the airbnb website, with pictures of rooms for rent

The Asheville City Council voted to severely restrict tourist rentals in Asheville earlier this year. The new rules state that rentals that had city permits before the vote can stay in business.

New rentals can only be established with special permission from the council. Many of these short-term vacation rentals are run by Airbnb or other lodging-service websites. Asheville is the most popular location for Airbnb rentals in the state — last year Airbnb hosts in Asheville earned more income than hosts in any other city in North Carolina, according to the company.

Host Frank Stasio talks to two reporters from the Asheville Citizen-Times about how short-term vacation rentals have changed the city. Dillon Davis is the growth and economy reporter for the paper, and Joel Burgess is the city reporter. Mai Thi Nguyen joins the conversation to talk about how other cities around the country are reacting to Airbnb and other short-term vacation rentals. Nguyen is a professor in the department of city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Interview Highlights

Davis on the issues wrapped up in Airbnb in Asheville:
There's a mix of balancing development interests and community interests and keeping Asheville with the personality that it has and not shifting to be too [focused] on development.

Burgess on some of the critiques of Airbnb in the community:
There is that really interesting pushback from some locals … It's really a pushback against some tourism in general. And then the other real pushback  you've seen is from people who are advocates for affordable housing, or housing in general. They say that this really exacerbates what's already a bad housing situation.

Burgess on when Airbnb started to become a problem:
The flip happened around 2015, and I think that was Asheville's increasing role in the tourism world — just so many people coming here — the advent of Airbnb and the fact that it was really easy to do online. That's when you started to see this pushback, and it became a political issue.

Nguyen on why jurisdictions are struggling to regulate short-term rentals:
In San Francisco and New York City, for example, they're trying to wrap their brain around it and get Airbnb to share data with them so they can actually see how many units are in their city. The problem is we just haven't had a good sense of where they are, how many are there, and what the impacts are.

Nguyen on what data showed about Airbnbs in New York City:
The New York [State] Attorney General's office actually sued Airbnb to get the data to do the analysis on who's actually running these Airbnb operations. And what they found was that many of the Airbnbs in New York City were commercially run, and they were essentially operating like illegal hotels, having 10 units in a building for example. And that drove New York City to actually ban short-term rentals, anything that is rented under 30 days. And so once you start doing the analysis, you'll start seeing that there are a lot of costs to cities to actually have short-term rentals, and it's not clear that it's a big winner in terms of economics.

The New York State Attorney General issued a subpoena for Airbnb data, instead of suing the company.

Here is information on the latest law in New York City related to short-term rentals, which issues fines for illegally listing rental properties on platforms like Airbnb.


Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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