Crowds press together in the streets of New Orleans as people gather to see the city’s festivities, but this year, there’s something different about the tourists. This year, instead of staying in the city’s hotels, more tourists are pouring into residential areas after using an app to quickly book a home for the week.
Airbnb, founded in 2008 as an online marketplace for short-term rentals, has seen its business grow exponentially in the last few years. In 2014, rooms available through the site jumped from 300,000 in February to more than 1 million in December, outpacing many of the largest hotel groups in the world. In May of 2016 Airbnb had almost 1.4 listings on the site and raised its revenue projection for this year to more than $900 million.
But the site impacts more than just hotel chains. As more investors, not just homeowners, use the site to rent out spare rooms — and even spare couches — it strains the supply of rental houses.
This is especially true in a place like New Orleans, where rising home prices have caused serious affordability problems. Home prices have risen 46% since Hurricane Katrina hit, according to an article by Katherine Sayre for The Times-Picayune.
Besides the number of lives lost, the most tangible impact the hurricane had on the city was the demolition of its housing stock, where 26% to 34% of its housing was lost or damaged, according to an article by Allison Plyer for The Data Center. The Center’s “The New Orleans Index” was the most widely used means of tracking rebuilding efforts in the months and years following Hurricane Katrina.
As of February 2016, Airbnb had a total of 3,621 active listings in New Orleans, according to data from Inside Airbnb, a non-commercial set of tools and data that shows how Airbnb is being used in different cities around the world.
Of course, there would seem to be a correlation between the rise in home prices and the gains in the app’s popularity, however, correlation does not always equal causation.
In order to truly understand the app’s effects, or lack thereof, you have to look deeper.
One letter circulating on Facebook entitled “Dear Airbnb Renter!” talks about what it sees as the dangers of Airbnb.
“The spread of tourism into residential neighborhoods is pushing out the people who live there,” the letter stated. “When landlords can get so much more for a property on Airbnb they no longer want to rent to actual working New Orleanians. Even residents that own their home are finding it difficult to pay their taxes because of the rising property values.”
That kind of outcry has reached lawmakers. In a letter sent on July 13 to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, several prominent senators expressed their concern. Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif, stated that they are especially concerned that short-term rentals are not only making housing more expensive in certain communities, but also making it harder to buy a house in the first place.