A letter to Comptroller Stringer

Dear Comptroller Stringer,

At a time when the public is losing trust in elected officials and losing faith in the processes of government, it is critical that those invested with the public trust deploy their power responsibly.  Responsibility in a democracy includes ensuring that government officials provide objective facts and do not abuse their powers to misuse information, especially in an effort to advance their own political career. Democracy cannot function if the public cannot trust the integrity of information disseminated by government.

Last week, you released a deeply flawed report that wrongly targeted middle class New Yorkers who share their homes on Airbnb. The report was based on data from AirDNA, an independent, for-profit, third party whose data gathering and operations are not affiliated with Airbnb.

After your report was released, AirDNA, which had not been contacted in advance by your office, said that you “improperly obtained” and then “incorrectly interpreted” their data.

Moreover, AirDNA went on to say that “it is impossible for Airbnb to have a material impact on housing prices” in New York City. At least one academic similarly criticized your report’s elementary failure to differentiate causation from correlation, calling its conclusions, “misleading.”

Finally, AirDNA made clear that many Airbnb hosts in New York City “are families trying to make some extra money.” This conclusion is in line with the monthly data released by Airbnb about the nature of its New York City host community and consistent with the NYU study released in October 2017, which was based on a variety of data sets, including comprehensive real data provided by Airbnb.

In short, the entity whose data was the basis for your report has stated that you improperly obtained the data and unequivocally stated that your report was wrong on the facts, wrong on the methodology and wrong in its conclusions.

It is possible that you were misled or perhaps even duped by whomever “improperly obtained” this data. It may well be the case that it was they who manipulated the data, wrote these inaccurate conclusions and created the final document distributed by your office that was riddled with crucial errors. The bottom line is that what has been disclosed about the data being manipulated and improperly obtained raises some serious questions that only you can answer:

  • Who gave you this data? AirDNA has made it clear that they did not provide data to your office and that the faulty analysis contained within your report could not have been conducted on information that was publicly available on the AirDNA website. Who provided your office with this data? Do they have any connection to special interests that should be registered to lobby with your office?
  • Where did the data come from? If your office or an unknown third-party didn’t pay AirDNA to use their data, as is purportedly required by their terms of service, then where did they get it from?
  • When did you improperly obtain this data? Given that the data was improperly obtained, what was the exact date that your office improperly obtained or received this data?
  • What did you do to draw your flawed conclusions? Since it is clear that the data was manipulated, what precisely did your office do to draw these bad conclusions? Did you consult with unbiased experts or were the conclusions dictated in advance by another party?
  • How much taxpayer money was spent by your agency attacking everyday, responsible New Yorkers who share their space? Your office is funded by taxpayers. How much in tax dollars went to create, produce and distribute the report? This calculation should include the number of hours of staff time dedicated to this deeply flawed project.

We have previously filed a Freedom of Information Law request that we hope will help answer these questions, but New Yorkers should not have to wait. The Comptroller’s Office can and should provide answers to these important questions today.

We are at a challenging time in America. People trust democratic institutions less and less, but trust is what makes our democracy work. Democracy cannot function if the public cannot trust the integrity of information disseminated by government.

So it is critically important — not just for Airbnb, but for the public — to have answers to these questions.

Then, we hope we can get down to business and craft some rules of the road that work. At your second inauguration, pointing to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, you said:

“Because unaffordability does not have to be a fact of life. It does not have to be inevitable, and it is not intractable. As a great New Yorker, Franklin Roosevelt, once said, we need ‘bold, persistent experimentation.’”

Addressing economic inequality through “bold, persistent experimentation” so people can stay in their homes is precisely what Airbnb is doing on behalf of our New York City hosts, 77% who depend on the Airbnb economics to help stay in their homes.

Despite all the false attacks on our hosts, we remain hopeful that we can work together on meaningful solutions for all New Yorkers. We hope you will retract this inaccurate report, be transparent with the facts and finally get around to working constructively on this issue when it comes to seriously confronting the real problems that plague New York City’s housing market.

Sincerely,

Chris Lehane
Airbnb