apartment in Burleigh heads
Image: Bailey Mahon

Airbnb has raised the hackles of strata owners who say the platform has filled their buildings with unfamiliar faces and parties. It has also been named a key component of anti-tourist sentiment sweeping across Europe. But whether it has had an effect on housing affordability is still an ongoing debate.

While many speculate the removal of entire apartments from the rental market for short-term letting reduces the available stock and pushes up prices, there is a gamut of drivers affecting affordability, and it has been difficult to isolate an effect. A lack of reliable data released by Airbnb compounds the problem.

Now new research being conducted by the University of NSW and Swinburne University is hoping to better clarify the relationship between short-term letting and housing affordability.

According to UNSW City Futures Research Centre research lecturer Dr Laura Crommelin, there is currently not enough information to determine how Airbnb intersects with housing affordability in Australia.

The research is calling on Sydney and Melbourne Airbnb hosts that either let out entire homes, or just rooms, to get involved in those studies.

“Those two uses are potentially very different in terms of their impact on housing affordability,” Dr Crommelin said.

“The first group takes a house out of the market; the second is more a case of a space that may or may not have been rented out if it wasn’t for Airbnb.”

The majority of Airbnb listings in Australia’s two largest cities are for entire apartments, according to data from open source data activist project Inside Airbnb. For Sydney, 61.5 per cent of the 32,830 listings are for entire dwellings, and an almost identical figure for Melbourne’s 20,406 listings.

Dr Crommelin said the research would delve into Airbnb users’ habits and drivers for using the platform in order to better understand interactions with affordability.

“We want to find out, for example, if spare rooms were previously rented to flatmates. Would the owners of large homes have downsized if they hadn’t listed spare rooms on Airbnb? And are people adding space to their homes or building granny flats to take advantage of Airbnb’s popularity?

“By surveying and interviewing hosts, we hope to better inform policy makers who might want to regulate the short-term rental market.”

She said Airbnb had told a NSW Parliamentary inquiry that its platform allowed hosts to become ambassadors for their communities while earning extra income to help make ends meet, and that the research wanted to “independently test those claims”.

The creator of Inside Airbnb Murray Cox this week spoke at a University of Sydney event on data activism and urban displacement. He revealed that Airbnb had previously “misled” the public on key facts about the platform, and it was being used as a tool of “racial gentrification” in New York City.

A report released this year by McGill University estimated that Airbnb had removed up to 13,500 units of housing from the long-term rental market of New York City, causing median rents to rise by 1.4 per cent over the last three years – a $380 increase for the median NYC tenant, and up to $700 in some Manhattan neighbourhoods.

At the University of Sydney event, School of Architecture, Design & Planning Professor Nicole Gurran said whether short-term letting had an effect on affordability may be dependant on a particular housing market.

“Our work would suggest that online listings are only a housing market problem in constrained housing markets,” she said, which should inform any regulatory response.

The UNSW/Swinburne project has received funding from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), and is calling for participants to sign up here.

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  1. I agree. The opinions, experiences and concerns of residents who have to live next door, or live on strata estates where people are selling common property for their private gain has yet to find a coherent voice. Deregulation of residential zoning to legitimise STHL, even in strata communities, in the face of pressure from AirBnB will make things worse for those currently protected by their by laws and LEP.

    It is being said that STHL in strata is a question of managing impacts. If that were true we would never have zoned ‘tourist and visitor accommodation’ in the first place. NSW does not have the courage to face down AirBNB to prevent entire homes being converted. Even if it was restricted to home hosted, that is no5 an answer for strata. Hosts are not present when their paying guests displace residents as they use pools, gyms, tennis courts etc. We have to accompany our visitors while frequently changing paying guests are treated to keys to facilities, car parks, a private marina and roam across estates.

    This is not the positive creative disruption of a moribund industry and these are not ‘under-utilised assets’, this the home environment of all residents

    STHL is not a ‘residential use’, it is commercial activity that violates the rights of other residents to their home, which in strata includes common property.

    The security of home is essential to emotional well being, it’s also the largest and most important financial asset for the majority of families and single people. Not many people would knowingly purchase next door to a B&B or serviced apartment let alone live with it going on above, below and on both sides of them or share their pool with hotel guests.

    The deregulation of residential zoning to legitimise STHL will makes things much worse for lots of people who are currently protected by their zoning laws and by laws. The opinions, experiences and concerns of the residential strata community have not been adequately researched or considered.

  2. It would be well worth exploring the socio economical impact on neighbouring properties and the potential for class action due to devaluation of property and loss of use. It is not acceptable that platforms such as AirBnb and Stayz accept nor responsibility for the impact their product has had. We have lived next door to one for 3 years it has severely affected our families health and well being, financially psychologically and the amenity of our home.

    Enough is enough.