Regulatory Approaches to Airbnb

photo by Open Grid Scheduler

Peter Coles et al. have posted Airbnb Usage Across New York City Neighborhoods: Geographic Patterns and Regulatory Implications to SSRN. Two of the co-authors are affiliated to Airbnb and the other three are affiliated to NYU. The paper states that “No consulting fees, research grants or other payments have been made by Airbnb to the NYU authors . . .” (1) The abstract reads,

This paper offers new empirical evidence about actual Airbnb usage patterns and how they vary across neighborhoods in New York City. We combine unique, census-tract level data from Airbnb with neighborhood asking rent data from Zillow and administrative, census, and social media data on neighborhoods. We find that as usage has grown over time, Airbnb listings have become more geographically dispersed, although centrality remains an important predictor of listing location. Neighborhoods with more modest median household incomes have also grown in popularity, and disproportionately feature “private room” listings (compared to “entire home” listings). We find that compared to long-term rentals, short-term rentals do not appear to be as profitable as many assume, and they have become relatively less profitable over our time period. Additionally, short-term rentals appear most profitable relative to long-term rentals in outlying, middle-income neighborhoods. Our findings contribute to an ongoing regulatory conversation catalyzed by the rapid growth in the short-term rental market, and we conclude by bringing an economic lens to varying approaches proposed to target and address externalities that may arise in this market.

I found the review alternative regulatory approaches to be particularly helpful:

City leaders around the world have adopted a wide range of approaches. We conclude by reviewing these alternative regulatory responses. We consider both citywide as well as neighborhood-specific responses, like those recently enacted in Portland, Maine or in New Orleans. A promising approach from an economic perspective is to impose fees that vary with intensity of usage. For instance, in Portland, Maine, short-term rental host fees increase with the number of units a given host seeks to register, and a recent bill from Representatives in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (H.3454) propose taxes that vary with the intensity of usage of individual units. Such varying fees may help discourage conversions of long-term rentals to short-term rentals and better internalize externalities that might rise with greater use. That said, overly-customized approaches may be difficult to administer. Regulatory complexity itself should also be a criterion in choosing policy responses. (2-3, citations omitted)

We are still a long ways off from knowing how the short-term rental market will be regulated once it fully matures, so work like this helps us see where we are so far.

Evidence and Innovation in Housing

Lee Anne Fennell and Benjamin Keys have posted the Introduction to their new book, Evidence and Innovation in Housing Law and Policy, to SSRN. It opens,

No area of law and policy presents more important and pressing questions, or ones more central to human well-being, than that of housing. Yet academic discourse around housing is too often siloed into separate topical areas and disciplinary approaches, while remaining distanced from the contentious housing policy debates unfolding in communities across the nation. In June 2016, the Kreisman Initiative on Housing Law and Policy at the University of Chicago Law School convened a conference in downtown Chicago with the goal of breaking down these barriers and forging new connections – between different facets of housing law and policy, between different disciplinary approaches to housing issues, between academic inquiry and applied policy, and between the lessons of the past and adaptations for the future.

This volume is the product of that conference and the dialogue it provoked among academics, practitioners, and policy makers. Its baker’s dozen of contributions comprises cutting-edge interdisciplinary work on housing and housing finance from leading scholars in law, economics, and policy. The pieces individually and collectively showcase how research and policy can come together in the housing arena. We hope the end result will have lasting relevance in setting the course – and identifying the obstacles – for housing law and policy going forward.

This book is organized around two interlocking roles that housing serves: as a vehicle for building community, and as a vehicle for building wealth. These facets of housing carry implications both for the households who consume residential services and for the larger economic, political, and spatial domains in which housing plays such a primary and contentious role. Cumulatively, the pieces here confront, and respond innovatively to, the dilemmas that these two facets of housing create for law and policy at different scales of analysis. (1)

This collection of papers brings together an all-star cast of housing nerds. While the papers are an eclectic mix, they are pretty consistent in that they ask important questions about housing policy. Even better, the Introduction contains links to open access versions of each paper. They are listed below:

Part I – Housing and the Metropolis: Law and Policy Perspectives

1 – The Rise of the Homevoters: How the Growth Machine Was Subverted by OPEC and Earth Day By William A. Fischel

2 – How Land Use Law Impedes Transportation Innovation By David Schleicher

3 – The Unassailable Case against Affordable Housing Mandates By Richard A. Epstein

Part II – Housing as Community: Stability, Change, and Perceptions

4 – Balancing the Costs and Benefits of Historic Preservation By Ingrid Gould Ellen & Brian J. McCabe

5 – Historic Preservation and Its Even Less Authentic Alternative By Lior Jacob Strahilevitz

6 – Losing My Religion: Church Condo Conversions and Neighborhood Change By Georgette Chapman Phillips

7 – How Housing Dynamics Shape Neighborhood Perceptions By Matthew Desmond

Part III – Housing as Wealth Building: Consumers and Housing Finance

8 – Behavioral Leasing: Renter Equity as an Intermediate Housing Form By Stephanie M. Stern

9 – Housing, Mortgages, and Retirement By Christopher J. Mayer

10 – The Rise and (Potential) Fall of Disparate Impact Lending Litigation By Ian Ayres, Gary Klein, & Jeffrey West

Part IV – Housing and the Financial System: Risks and Returns

11 – Household Debt and Defaults from 2000 to 2010: The Credit Supply View By Atif Mian & Amir Sufi

12 – Representations and Warranties: Why They Did Not Stop the Crisis By Patricia A. McCoy & Susan Wachter

13 – When the Invisible Hand Isn’t a Firm Hand: Disciplining Markets That Won’t Discipline Themselves By Raphael W. Bostic & Anthony W. Orlando

Race, Poverty and Housing Policy

Signing of the Housing and Urban Development Act

Signing of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965

Ingrid Gould Ellen and Jessica Yager of NYU’s Furman Center contributed a chapter on Race, Poverty, and Federal Rental Housing Policy to the HUD at 50 volume I have been blogging about. It opens,

For the last 50 years, HUD has been tasked with the complex, at times contradictory, goals of creating and preserving high-quality affordable rental housing, spurring community development, facilitating access to opportunity, combating racial discrimination, and furthering integration through federal housing and urban development policy. This chapter shows that, over HUD’s first 5 decades, statutes and rules related to rental housing (for example, rules governing which tenants get priority to live in assisted housing and where assisted housing should be developed) have vacillated, reflecting shifting views about the relative benefits of these sometimes-competing objectives and the best approach to addressing racial and economic disparities. Also, HUD’s mixed success in fair housing enforcement—another core part of its mission—likely reflects a range of challenges including the limits of the legal tools available to the agency, resource limitations, and the difficulty of balancing the agency’s multiple roles in the housing market. This exploration of HUD’s history in these areas uncovers five key tensions that run through HUD’s work.

The first tension emerges from the fact that housing markets are local in nature. HUD has to balance this variation, and the need for local jurisdictions to tailor programs and policies to address their particular market conditions, with the need to establish and enforce consistent rules with respect to fair housing and the use of federal subsidy dollars.

The second tension is between serving the neediest households and achieving economic integration. In the case of place-based housing, if local housing authorities choose to serve the very poorest households in their developments, then those developments risk becoming islands of concentrated poverty. Further, by serving only the poorest households, HUD likely narrows political support for its programs.

The third tension is between serving as many households as possible and supporting housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods. Unfortunately, in many metropolitan areas, land—and consequently housing construction—is significantly more expensive in the higher-income neighborhoods that typically offer safer streets, more extensive job networks and opportunities, and higher-performing schools. As a result, a given level of resources can typically house fewer families in higher-income areas than in lower-income ones.

The fourth tension is between revitalizing communities and facilitating access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. Research shows that, in some circumstances, investments in subsidized housing can help revitalize distressed communities and attract private investment. Yet, in other circumstances, such investments do not trigger broader revitalization and instead may simply constrain families and children in subsidized housing to live in areas that offer limited opportunities.

The final apparent tension is between facilitating integration and combating racial discrimination. Despite the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA’s) integration goal, legal decisions, which are discussed further in this chapter, have determined that the act’s prohibition on discrimination limits the use of some race-conscious approaches to maintaining integrated neighborhoods.

To be sure, these tensions are not always insurmountable. But addressing all of them at once requires a careful balancing act. The bulk of this chapter reviews how HUD programs and policies have struck this balance in the area of rental housing during the agency’s first 50 years. The chapter ends with a look to the challenges HUD is likely to face in its next 50 years. (103-104, citation omitted)

The chapter does a great job of outlining the tensions inherent in HUD’s broad mandate. It made me wonder, though, whether HUD would benefit from narrowing its mission for the next 50 years. If it focused on assisting more low-income households with their housing expenses (for example, by dramatically expanding the Section 8 housing voucher program and scaling back other programs), it might do that one thing well rather than doing many things less well.

HUD at 50

United States Dept of Housing and Urban Development by Tim1965

The Office of Policy Development and Research at the Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued HUD at 50: Creating Pathways to Opportunity. It is a massive tome, with a lot of interest in it for the housing geeks among us. In the Preface, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development Lynn Ross writes,

This volume looks back on HUD’s history and looks forward to ways the agency might evolve. If you are familiar with the mission and the work of PD&R, you will not be surprised to learn that this book includes thorough analyses of not only how programs succeeded, but also how they sometimes fell short and what was done in response. I hope you will take the time to engage with the analysis and ideas contained throughout this volume. We’ve organized this book so you can read the thematic chapters in any order—although you can certainly read it cover to cover.

Given that HUD at 50 is more than 250 pages long, only the most dedicated among us will do so. Nonetheless, it is worth skimming the table of contents to see if any of the entries are worth reading in full:

  • Introduction by Julián Castro
  • Chapter 1 The Founding and Evolution of HUD: 50 Years, 1965–2015 by Jill Khadduri
  • Chapter 2 Race, Poverty, and Federal Rental Housing Policy by Ingrid Gould Ellen and Jessica Yager
  • Chapter 3 Urban Development and Place by Raphael W. Bostic
  • Chapter 4 Housing Finance in Retrospect by Susan Wachter and Arthur Acolin
  • Chapter 5 Poverty and Vulnerable Populations by Margery Austin Turner, Mary K. Cunningham, and Susan J. Popkin
  • Chapter 6 Housing Policy and Demographic Change by Erika Poethig, Pamela Blumenthal, and Rolf Pendall
  • Conclusion Places as Platforms for Opportunity: Where We Are and Where We Should Go by Katherine M. O’Regan

I will take a closer look at some of these chapters in the coming days, but feel free to dip in before I do!

Desvinculado y Desigual = Separate and Unequal

"Plessy marker" by Skywriter - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Justin Steil, Jorge De la Roca and Ingrid Gould Ellen, researchers affiliated to the NYU Furman Center, have published Desvinculado y Desigual [Separate and Unequal]: Is Segregation Harmful to Latinos? The authors find that their research on this topic “suggests that segregation may have as negative effects for Latinos as it does for African Americans and that persistent Latino-white segregation is of serious concern as the nation’s metropolitan areas continue to become more diverse.” (74)

More specifically, their research finds that

segregation continues to be associated with significant reductions in educational attainment and labor market success for African Americans, and that the associations between segregation and outcomes for Latinos are at least as large as those for African Americans. For native-born African American and Latino young adults between the ages of 20 and 30, increases in metropolitan-area segregation are associated with significant reductions in the likelihood of high school and college graduation, with lower earnings and employment rates, and with an increase in single motherhood.

These findings are somewhat unanticipated given the long history of intense black-white segregation and the systematic disinvestment in black neighborhoods through much of the last century, when compared to the historically more moderate levels of Latino-white segregation. These findings raise the question of which mechanisms may be at play to generate these differences.

One crucial mechanism seems to be the levels of neighborhood human capital to which whites, Latinos, and African Americans are exposed; they are consistent with the negative associations for both blacks and Latinos and with the differences in the magnitude of the association between them. The white-Latino gap in neighborhood exposure to human capital increases dramatically as levels of segregation increase.

The significance of neighborhood levels of human capital is consistent with existing research on the effects of segregation for African Americans and for immigrants. (73, citations omitted)

This is an understudied and important topic, so it is great that the authors have begun to explore it. They identify a number of research questions that others can take up. Let’s hope some do.