The fever isn’t breaking. There are now bidding wars for one in every five Manhattan rental apartments (and one in three luxury units), according to the most recent Douglas Elliman report. Inventory in all of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and northwest Queens has been hovering well below 10,000 units — as of April, the number was just 7,669. Which is several thousand less than the number of entire-apartment and entire-home Airbnb rentals available in New York City right now: 10,572, according to AirDNA, a third-party site that tracks short-term rentals. Inside Airbnb, another site that scrapes Airbnb for listings data, puts the number even higher, at 20,397.
Ever since Airbnb came on the scene in 2008, there have been concerns that the short-term-rental company would deplete the housing stock by sucking up available rooms, causing prices to rise in cities like New York and San Francisco, where there were already severe housing shortages. The absolute number of available apartments and houses on the site peaked before the pandemic and has since dropped back, according to both Inside Airbnb and AirDNA. But there’s a difference now: There are just so few apartments to be had that Airbnbs make up the majority of the city’s available rentals.
Airbnb doesn’t release listings or bookings data and wouldn’t comment on the data collected by AirDNA and Inside Airbnb, though its representatives were willing to confirm that its New York City listing inventory has fallen since the start of the pandemic. They pointed to several other factors — none related to Airbnb — that may have contributed to the housing shortage. “Over the past two years, our entire space listing supply citywide has decreased, and it now represents a fraction of a percent of the city’s rental units — and all while rent prices have trended upward and city-issued permits for new-unit development remain down by a double-digit percentage,” a spokesperson for the company wrote in an email. That number is somewhat gamed: Airbnb is comparing its inventory to the total number of rental units in New York, not just the available ones, which as of 2017 was 2.18 million. But, of course, only a tiny fraction of those are open in any given year, let alone any given month.
The company has, for its part, always vehemently denied that it plays any role in the housing shortage, insisting that it provides income that helps people remain in expensive cities they’d otherwise have to leave. Its representatives also pointed to several factors that can make scraped third-party data inaccurate: multiple listings for the same property and listings that show up as active but are rarely available — for example, a townhouse that homeowners only rent out when they travel, meaning it’s active year-round but only available for a few weeks a year. But even if AirDNA and Inside Airbnb are overestimating the number of apartment-and-home listings on the site by a wide margin, and with the caveat that Douglas Elliman’s rental reports don’t cover the Bronx or Staten Island, it seems likely that the number is at least broadly accurate. (Inside Airbnb counts only 624 entire-apartment-or-house listings in those two boroughs, so they’re a minor factor in the overall numbers.) On top of the full-home listings, there are nearly 9,000 private and shared rooms available on Airbnb, according to AirDNA.
Does it matter that there are more Airbnbs than rental listings right now? Doesn’t that point to just how scarce all rentals are (except hotel rooms, that is)? Well, yes, but with people fighting over every decent apartment that comes on the market, it’s worth taking note of how many apartments have been taken out of circulation to become short-term rentals. Some may be townhouses or condos rented for only a few weeks a year, of course, but lots are surely brownstone garden apartments that a decade ago might have gone to long-term tenants. (On a Brooklyn listserv I belong to, every few months someone asks about Airbnbing instead of renting their brownstone’s garden level.) The city’s housing market, always tight, is now close to crisis. You’d have much better luck finding a one-bedroom in a brownstone for a few weeks than a year-long lease. Which doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.
Although the common wisdom has been that more apartments would come on the market in spring and early summer, as leases that were signed during the influx of returning New Yorkers turned over, that doesn’t appear to be happening. Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel, who wrote the Douglas Elliman report, said that while things seemed to be improving in March, with rising inventory and stabilizing rents, in April the shortage began to worsen again. The net-effective median rent in Manhattan went up year-over-year to a new high ($3,925) at the largest rate on record, and listing inventory had the most significant annual decline on record. “The market isn’t turning, it’s actually accelerating,” Miller said. “Greater affordability is not right around the corner. More and more people are hunkering down.”
After all, why move if there’s nowhere to go?