Governments Can Harass Airbnb, But They Won’t Stop Progress

The short-term rental platform Airbnb continues to face attacks from state and federal governments across the globe, with the latest example coming from Ireland. But while the tech firm prepares to hand over details on thousands of its hosts to the country’s officials in an attempt to keep the country from outright banning the platform, it’s become more than clear why allowing free people to do what they will with their own property is so terrifying to special interests.

In a piece for The Washington Post, the newspaper with a history of leaning left, condominium unit owners Dusty Horwitt and Pamela J. Lee warn about the dangers of Airbnb, urging the Washington, D.C., Council to help “prevent conversions of residential units into full-time hotels” by passing effective legislation.

Warning D.C. officials that the lack of prohibitions on short-term rentals could expose helpless families and other dwellers to safety risks, the duo gave lawmakers another juicy incentive to keep those pesky homeowners from renting their home as they see fit: insurance companies may get angry.  

The insurance industry spends millions on lobbying Washington lawmakers regularly. And while it’s not yet clear whether they have pulled any strings behind the scenes in the fight against Airbnb, hotel lobbyists have, running a very open campaign against Airbnb in the nation’s capital while calling itself a group of community leaders.  

As the D.C. Council continues to debate whether it should pass a proposal that would arbitrarily restrict the days homeowners can rent their houses or rooms while also capping the number of D.C. homes residents can share, major outlets like The Washington Post lend their platform to these “community leaders,” whose sole purpose is to press government to control people’s property on their behalf.

With the income generated by short-term rentals, underemployed house owners are actually being able to pay their mortgage. Others use Airbnb simply because they would starve without it. But helping individuals pay their bills is not the only way that Airbnb is helping the economy.

Airbnb hosts also help local tourism, boosting the economy of local cities where they provide cheaper and more accessible accommodations to travelers from across the globe. In many cases, travelers only consider leaving their homes because they can rely on short-term rentals, as hotel rates have grown considerably in the past few years.

In addition, Airbnb enjoys enormous popular support.

According to a survey from the Consumer Technology Association, participants of the sharing economy, hosts or users of Airbnb, overwhelmingly support the technology and see no problem with how the system works.

Still, lobbyists and unions continue with their aggressive “grassroots” campaign against Airbnb.

Fear Of Competition

The hotel industry has long dominated the scene, forcing travelers on a budget to reconsider their trips, stay at busy and potentially unsafe hostels, or completely change destinations over the accommodation costs.

With the creation of sites such as BeWelcome in 2007, which allows users to find places where to “couch surf,” the creation of Airbnb offered travelers the possibility of finding suitable accommodations that are both comfortable and affordable. The idea became so popular that it helped boost tourism everywhere. An example of this economic boost comes from Spain, where a city even banned Airbnb after it became tired of the growing number of visitors.

Seeing that their fight against cheap accommodations would require a more compelling narrative than “our big, expensive hotels are losing too much money,” the lobby against short-term rentals branched out, partnering with urban planners and progressive organizations who often bemoan “gentrification” as an attack against the poor.

But Airbnb is not responsible for the rise in housing costs in the United States. Instead, look at the government for the culprit.

Government’s ‘Helpful’ Policies Drive Up Housing Costs

Whenever government sees an increase in demand for housing, it steps in with more rent control, zoning laws, and subsidies. This heavy-handed approach to housing policy makes housing even less affordable, especially in urban areas.

Additionally, our inflationary monetary policy also helps to fuel the rise in housing prices by rewarding current homeowners selling their homes to first-time homebuyers. As the money supply increases, its value drops. This forces the new homebuyer to either find a way to increase his wages to afford his home or get locked out of homeownership altogether.

Because the hotel industry seems so terrified at Airbnb’s impressive growth, its anti-home sharing rhetoric is helping to fuel a new kind of resistance, one that seeks to stop progress on its tracks while attacking peaceful individuals over voluntary commercial transactions.

In the long run, it cannot work. Shutting down this fantastic innovation in short-term rental would require impossible levels of enforcement, the overriding of consumer sentiment, and the shutting down of the drive of people to cooperate and exchange to their mutual benefit. Government and lobbying power can slow down the pace of change but they won’t stop progress.  

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Chloe Anagnos

Chloe Anagnos, a writer and digital marketer, has been an AIER contributor since 2017. Her work has been the subject of articles in FOX News, USA Today, CNN Money, and WIRED. She has been a writer, commentator, and panelist for media outlets around the country on subjects like political marketing, campaigning, and social media. Follow @ChloeAnagnos.