.Regulate Airbnb

Americans have been on a vacation binge since the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. In particular, the vacation rental company Airbnb is thriving. Late last year, the company posted its highest-ever profits.

Meanwhile, cities are seeing rising rents, unaffordable home prices and increased homelessness. Authorities are now linking these crises partly to Airbnb—and some are now passing strict regulations.

Just as companies like Uber were once touted as a way for working people with cars to earn a little extra spending cash, Airbnb offered the promise of supplementary income for those with an extra room or converted garage.

I’ve rented several Airbnb homes over the 15 years since the company was founded. In the early years, staying in other people’s houses felt like an act of rebellion against corporate hotel chains. The privacy, convenience and often lower cost enabled tourists with tighter budgets to enjoy family vacations that otherwise might have been unavailable.

Now, however, the market is increasingly dominated by a small number of corporate “hosts” and professional property managers—wealthy elites and corporate entities that scoop up large numbers of properties and turn big profits by renting them out to travelers. And that’s driving up housing costs for everyone.

While cheaper vacation stays are certainly desirable for those of us who love to travel, vacationing is a privilege in the U.S. More than a third of Americans, a 2023 survey found, are unlikely to take a summer vacation. And of those, more than half say they simply can’t afford it.

A 2019 Economic Policy Institute study pointed out that “Airbnb might, as claimed, suppress the growth of travel accommodation costs, but these costs are not a first-order problem for American families.” What is a first-order problem is affordable housing.

While regulating Airbnb will not mitigate all economic injustices facing Americans, it certainly will move the needle in the right direction.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host of ‘Rising Up With Sonali,’ a television and radio show on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

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