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An Airbnb billboard in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo).
An Airbnb billboard in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo)

Councilmember Tim Burgess told an impassioned audience that short-term rentals account for 12 percent of available housing inventory in Seattle last week at a meeting of the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee.

Previously: ‘Exploited and defeated’: Tensions mount as Seattle lawmakers debate banning short-term rentals in secondary homes

Airbnb says its numbers show otherwise. The home-sharing platform is releasing results from its own study today — claiming that entire homes, rented full-time through Airbnb, make up only 0.05 percent of Seattle’s overall housing stock.

According to Airbnb, 3,250 entire home listings were active on its platform in Seattle as of July 1 this year. However, the company says only 165 of those active listings were booked full-time as short-term rentals in the past year. (The study defines “full-time” as a property rented at least 270 days per year.) That amounts to .05 percent of Seattle’s 324,490 housing units, using housing estimates from the American Community Survey, according to the company.

Airbnb says most entire home listings are shared for less than a quarter of the year. In addition, the company says many entire-home listings wouldn’t be viable long-term housing units because of their configuration or lack of year-round availability.

“One space listed on Airbnb as an entire home does not mean one unit of long-term housing is being removed from the marketplace,” the company said in a statement. “Opponents have made the false claim that any entire home listing on Airbnb could be a unit of long term housing — this simply isn’t true.”

The report comes just a week after HomeAway, the other major player in the alternative accommodations space, released a report claiming its short-term rentals account for less than 1 percent of Seattle housing. HomeAway is owned by Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia. Both short-term rental sites argue that the proposed regulations would not ease Seattle’s housing affordability crunch.

One reason for the large discrepancy in the numbers from the city and the companies: HomeAway and Airbnb are presenting their stats as a percentage of Seattle’s overall housing stock. The numbers from the councilmember were a percentage of available inventory, a smaller slice of the overall home market.

Councilmember Tim Burgess.
Councilmember Tim Burgess.

The policy approach, championed by Burgess and Mayor Ed Murray, has gone through several iterations. The latest would require anyone who rents a unit on Airbnb or HomeAway to live on the property, with the exception of property owners that obtained a business license before June 1, 2016. Those that fall within the exception would be permitted to continue renting out secondary residences for a period of 10 years or when the property is sold (whichever occurs sooner).

Seattle’s population boom and housing affordability crisis, driven in large part by the tech industry, are the impetus for the new regulation. Burgess says he’s concerned that affordable, long-term housing inventory is increasingly being converted into short-term rentals, which tend to be more lucrative. By targeting secondary residences he aims to reduce the number of homes that are operated like hotels.

In a June 6 post, he explained that “the proposed regulations uphold a perspective that existing residential units should be available for residents, allowing people to live in this beautiful city and enjoy what it has to offer.”

But Airbnb and HomeAway say that that kind of listing represents such a small portion of Seattle’s housing market, that regulating it will not have a meaningful impact on affordability.

Short-term rental advocates Sarah Vallieu, Darik Eaton, and Candi Canncel.
Short-term rental advocates Sarah Vallieu, Darik Eaton, and Candi Canncel.

“We believe the ban on all secondary homeowners going forward is overly restrictive,” Cynthia Wang, a representative from Airbnb, said at the council meeting. “There are many owners here in Seattle that live here for part of the year and that housing would not otherwise be on the long-term market.”

Wong had the support of dozens of Seattle property owners, sporting neon green “Save Seattle Short-Term Rentals” t-shirts. But not everyone in the audience was there to protest regulation. Kate Starbird, a Belltown resident asked the city to go further in its efforts to curb Airbnb and HomeAway.

“We feel exploited and defeated, powerless, unsafe in our homes, sad, angry, and afraid,” she said. “We feel that the profits from these short-term rentals have literally been squeezed from the lifeblood of our community, from our quality of life. The proposed changes to the regulations which allow amnesty for certain owners, they may be a worst-case scenario for us.”

The Seattle city council will continue to debate these issues and hear feedback from the community. A vote on the proposed regulations has not yet been set.

“We look forward to continuing our discussion with City of Seattle in the coming weeks in hopes of helping them craft fair regulations that allow middle class families to continue sharing their homes,” says Airbnb.

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