The Seattle Times | June 15, 2016

Can’t find a home in Seattle? Airbnb rentals may be to blame
The Seattle Times | Gene Balk
June 15, 2016

Recent research shows that more than a third of Airbnb homes/apartments for rent are by hosts who don’t even live in them.

In Seattle’s worsening housing crunch, can we afford to have 1,000 units taken off the market?

That’s exactly what’s happening, according to a new study of Airbnb’s impact on Seattle’s apartment supply.

The short-term rental startup does not make its data on Seattle readily available to the public. So Howard Greenwich, a senior policy adviser at the housing-advocacy group Puget Sound Sage, enlisted the help of web developer Tom Slee to scrape data from Airbnb’s website.

They found that in April, there were 2,817 listings for whole units, or entire houses or apartments (there were also 1,353 private or shared rooms in Seattle). Most of these are placed by folks renting out their own home to make some extra cash while they’re away. But 1,003 of these units — 36 percent — were listed by hosts who did not reside there. These are properties, according to the study, that could be housing local renters rather than Airbnb vacationers.

The reason property owners opt for Airbnb instead of a long-term tenant is simple: It’s more lucrative. And that profit motive has turned Airbnb into something of a cottage industry.

“It’s gotten much more sophisticated,” Greenwich said. “There are startups that have emerged. Their sole purpose is to help you either manage your Airbnb units, or to find your investment opportunities as Airbnbs … They can show you houses currently for sale in Seattle and how much you can make on them as short-term rentals.”

And some Seattleites seem to have turned Airbnb into a full-time job. There are 27 hosts in Seattle who have six or more properties listed on the site. In total, these hosts manage 449 whole units, or 16 percent of the listings in Seattle. One host who uses the screen name Daniela has the most listings of any individual — 54.

The report shows the explosiveness of Airbnb’s growth in Seattle. Between September 2015 and April 2016, the number of whole units listed jumped by 665 — a 31 percent increase. Nearly half of these were listed by hosts with two or more properties on Airbnb.

The downtown neighborhoods, led by Belltown, showed the largest rise in listings in this eight-month period — an increase of 153 units. The area with the fastest growth was Bitter Lake/Greenwood, where the number of units jumped by 60 percent.

Only one part of the city saw a decline, ending the period with 10 fewer listings: the University District.

Considering Airbnb’s rate of growth, a fast-increasing number of units could be taken off the rental market in the next few years. Greenwich projects between 943 and 1,652 more long-term rental units will be lost by 2019.

“The scale of short-term rental housing in Seattle to date has not been that big of a problem,” he said. “It’s really the growth we’ve seen in the last year, and what we’re projecting going forward. Once you get up over 1,000 units, it begins to affect the market — that’s where it’s at now, and it’s going to get bigger.”