This was originally published in stuff.co.nz
American journalist HL Mencken famously said that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”.
So it seems today in the complex debate around housing affordability in New Zealand. Some people are now claiming the housing affordability crisis is the fault of home sharing generally, and Airbnb specifically.
Put simply, trying to blame Airbnb for housing unaffordability is both wrong and misleading. The attempt to scapegoat Airbnb isn’t based on facts or hard evidence but rather anecdotes and back-of-the-napkin analyses.
Let’s set the record straight. First, expensive housing is not a new problem in New Zealand. It existed long before Airbnb and home sharing arrived on the scene less than a decade ago.
Secondly, home sharing makes housing more affordable – not less. It is in our very DNA; our community was founded during the global financial crisis by three young people who were just trying to pay their rent.
To this day, home sharing is allowing people to take typically their biggest expense – their housing – and turn it into extra income to pay the mortgage or bills.
Thirdly, on the whole there is not an incentive for a landlord to change a long-term rental into a short-term rental – the numbers just don’t stack up.
The average rent for a new agreement is now $449 per week or $23,348 a year. In contrast, the typical Airbnb host in New Zealand as at 2017 earned just $88 per week, or $4600 a year.
Fourthly, despite our community’s growth and popularity in New Zealand, Airbnb is not a significant factor in the local housing market. Our community only represents roughly 1 to 2 per cent of the total housing market.
To put that in perspective, there are close to five times as many empty or so-called ghost homes in New Zealand as there are Airbnb listings.
In Auckland, Airbnb’s most popular city in New Zealand, the number of Airbnb listings is only half the number of empty houses in the city.
Finally, focusing on the number of listings alone is like only telling half the story – the number of listings does not equal the number of properties.
People often overlook that a host can have multiple listings that all refer to the same property.
For example, a host can share a room in their home when they are home, and the entire apartment when they travel. This means they have two separate listings but only one property.
What’s more, many of our entire home listings on Airbnb that aren’t a person’s home are in fact people’s baches or cribs. Many of these holiday homes would not have ever been on the long-term rental market, and as such could not have been taken off.
Housing affordability is a wickedly complex public policy problem. Any mature and prudent debate must look at the real drivers of affordability like population growth, construction and the planning system.
As such, we should beware of anyone pushing clear and simple answers.
Brent Thomas is Airbnb’s head of public policy in Australia and New Zealand.