As part of Airbnb’s charm offensive in NYC, the company has pledged to release data about hosting in the city. Of course, Airbnb’s definition of a data ‘release’ is a little different from mine.
To their credit, Airbnb got back to me and offered to let me look at some data. So Thursday morning I visited a shared office space in the Flatiron district with 3 Airbnb employees, their PR guy, and an air-gapped macbook.
The data was laid out in an Excel spreadsheet, organized across 7 tabs of aggregated data, and 3 tabs of raw-but-anonymized data. Information was broken out into two parts: one part that aggregated information on the last 12 months (11/2014 to 11/2015) and another part that took a current snapshot of hosts, as of November 17, 2015.
Airbnb’s goal in this ‘release’ is to show the local community that it’s a transparent partner and that it’s not the reason the rent is too damn high. Of course, making people trek to their office and physically write down numbers in order to get the data (like some kind of savage!) while under supervision probably isn’t the best way to win over the everyman. At least not the data-oriented everyman. Regardless, here’s what I got:
Where the Airbnb Units are
Of course, Airbnb units aren’t evenly distributed throughout the city: they tend to be clustered in certain areas. The data Airbnb made available showed listings by zip-code, so I wrote down the 10 zip codes with the most ‘active listings’ (‘entire home’ listings and ‘shares’ combined). Here they are on the map:
(They are, in order, 11211, 10002, 10009, 10003, 11206, 11221, 11238, 10019, 10011, and 11216 if you’re curious)
Unsurprisingly, they’re clustered where the young folks congregate: Chelsea, the East Village, the Lower East Side, Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy.
Where Hosts are Making the Most
At this point, I took two more looks at the data: where were hosts making the most money, and where were they seeing the most guests?
First I looked at which zip codes had the highest median earnings (again, entire home listings and shares combined). The results will not surprise you.
(In order: 10036, 10019, 10013, 10075, 10012, 10014, 10001, 10016, 10022, 10009)
I was surprised at how modest the median earnings were: even in the top zip code, 10036 (Times Square) the median host earned less than $10,000 last year.
Again, this could be due to how fast Airbnb is growing: if the number of listings doubled in size over this time-period, then by definition about half of these listings were only being rented out for a fraction of the year.
[Update]: An Airbnb representative emailed me to say “The median income was calculated using only hosts that have been on the site for twelve months.”
Where Visitors are Staying
Finally, I took the ‘median number of nights’ listings in each zip code were shared, and multiplied it by the number of listings in each zip code, to get an estimate of how many nights Airbnbs were occupied in each zipcode. This is trying to estimate which neighborhoods are getting the most additional visitors from Airbnb.
To be clear, this number is not exact: the right way to calculate this would be to use the mean nights occupied, not the median, but the mean was not disclosed. I think this should be fairly accurate for purposes of ranking different areas.
(In order: 11211, 10009, 10002, 10019, 11216, 10003, 11206, 11221, 10014, 10036)
The busiest zip code by my estimate, 11211 (Williamsburg) got over 50,000 night stays during the time period.
Is Airbnb Impacting Housing Affordability?
It’s hard to tell. Airbnb’s data shows that it’s a major player in the NYC housing rental market. As of November 17, there were almost 20,000 active entire-home listings in New York City. According to the most recent NYC Housing & Vacancy Survey, last year there were only about 75,000 vacant rental apartments in all of NYC. So if every Airbnb entire-home listing was converted into a vacant unit at once, it would immediately increase the rental vacancy rate by over 25%.
Of course, not every entire-home unit on Airbnb is regularly rented out: only about 20% of listings were shared 90 or more days of the year. Still, it’s difficult to use these numbers to estimate how many units are primarily dedicated to Airbnb, especially given how fast Airbnb is growing (ie, units that were listed on Airbnb in the last month might be full-time rentals, but can’t have been rented more than 30 days). Airbnb chose not to disclose how quickly it’s growing in New York, though it’s last two economic impact studies imply it’s growing pretty fast, maybe even 80% per year. Knowing something about that number is important for estimating the current and future impact their marketplace has on the city.
The bottom line is that the data that’s being released is not sufficient to make this determination. More detail, specifically on how many listings are primarily dedicated to hosting, is needed.