A neighborhood in Hollywood. Photo by Lauren Fleischmann on Unsplash.

Councilmember Proposes Converting Airbnb Units into Affordable Housing

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As people continue to stay in their own homes, Airbnb properties sit empty. On Wednesday, Councilmember Gil Cedillo introduced a motion that would see the City of Los Angeles renting vacant Airbnb units and using them to house low- to moderate-income tenants instead. His proposal is modeled after a similar affordable housing program in Lisbon, Portugal.

“The dominant company in the short-stay housing market, Airbnb, has been severely affected by the pandemic, with its bookings having plunged by 76 percent in Lisbon, 75 percent in Amsterdam, and 74 percent in Paris,” the motion reads. “As a result of Airbnb’s decline, vacation homes that were previously occupied by short-term renters lie empty in cities around the world.”

In Lisbon, a program called Renda Segura, or “secure income,” lets Airbnb hosts rent their homes to the city for a minimum of five years. The city then finds tenants using an affordable housing program. Rents cannot exceed $509 a month for a one-bedroom apartment or $1,130 for a large house.

Lisbon was able to reintroduce 177 apartments to its long-term rental market after processing the program’s first round of applicants. The landlords may not be raking in the cash, but they do get to make some money while someone else does all the work. They also don’t have to pay property or capital gains taxes.

Cedillo claims that if a similar program were implemented in L.A., it could make thousands of units available. According to his motion, there are over 39,000 Airbnb listings in L.A. right now. Of those listings, more than 24,000 are for entire homes or apartments, and 12,000 of them are for private rooms. More than half of the city’s hosts have more than one listing.

Cedillo’s motion instructs the L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) to develop a report on the feasibility of such a program.

Even before the pandemic, short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb had a negative impact on L.A.’s rental market. It’s not such a big deal when someone rents out a spare room or carriage house, but what about when someone rents multiple homes or units that would otherwise be open to tenants?

USC researchers found that not only did short-term rentals decrease long-term housing stock, they also contributed to rising housing costs. Dowell Myers, a professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, argued that in a city like L.A. that’s already short on housing, the burden often falls on younger adults who are forced to take on roommates or live with family for much longer than in previous generations — if they want to remain in Los Angeles.

“We can’t afford to give up a single unit,” Myers said.

Los Angeles has tried to curb Airbnb’s impact on the housing stock by limiting hosts to a single listing that must also be their primary residence. Enforcement was supposed to go into effect in November 2019.

However, the city’s planning commission voted last December to recommend letting hosts rent out a second home. And, according to Curbed Los Angeles, a law firm that filed a complaint with the department over its enforcement of short-term rentals was able to identify a host who didn’t live in L.A. but had nine Silver Lake units available on Airbnb.

Los Angeleno