An Open Letter to Airbnb Users
Your family vacations are destroying other families
Dear Airbnb users,
Summer is just around the corner. Can you feel it? The days are getting longer, the earth is feeling warmer, and the spring flowers and showers will soon give way to glorious sunny summer days — just perfect for a beach vacation or a city trip.
This is going to be an especially precious summer, as we’ve all been cooped up for two and a half years. For those of us with kids, we’re all chafing to hit the lakes and/or sea, all day, every day.
I’m sure you’ve also noticed that Airbnb is ramping up its advertising. The commercials, entitled “An Airbnb Story,” are beautiful. Couples and families with one or two (but rarely three or more) children, stay at an Airbnb, snapping photos of their family vacations in wild and exotic locales.
The ads all end with the same text on screen:
Made possible by Hosts.
But there’s only one problem with these ads.
Your family’s next Airbnb isn’t made possible by hosts.
It’s made possible by huge amounts of human suffering.
Airbnb: The anti-hotel
Airbnb started with the best of intentions. Three roommates couldn’t afford to make rent on their San Francisco apartment, so they bought some air mattresses and served breakfast to their house guests. Brilliant.
But things have drastically changed since then.
Today, Airbnb is a $75 billion private-equity-backed monopoly that has devoured millions of housing units, evicted countless families, and turned their homes into full-time clerkless hotels, making a promise to their investors, in writing, to fight democracies in court for as long as they can afford to do so.
The Airbnb homelessness crisis
Airbnb is one of the biggest refugee-creating corporations on the planet.
There are more than 580,400 homeless people in America as we speak.
Nearly 40% are permanently unsheltered.
That’s several hundred thousand men, women, and children.
And 100% of their pain and suffering is preventable.
We need to call these precious people what they really are:
A domestic refugee is someone who is displaced from their home by powers outside of their control.
While Putin has created 8 million Ukrainian refugees in the same way America caused 9.2 million Iraqi refugees, Airbnb is creating a global refugee crisis on a scale that will eventually make all warlords look like benign bullies in comparison.
So far, there are more than 7 million Airbnbs in the world.
While 500,000 Americans sleep on the streets like dogs, literally dying by the hundreds each week, Airbnb has taken millions of family homes off the market and turned them into full-time illegal hotels.
Every full-time Airbnb evicts a real family.
The Airbnb cost-push is just getting started
Second homes are directly linked to an increase in house prices.
Call me crazy, but residential family homes shouldn’t be commercial hotels.
When a host rents out a spare room or attic or basement, they commercialize — and financialize — a property. Because it’s now producing income, house prices rise. This forces every new buyer in the neighborhood to shoulder more debt in order to buy a home. In order to make ends meet, many of these new buyers then have to start renting rooms on Airbnb.
You can see how the financialization of homes spirals house prices higher and higher.
But unbelievably, hosting in owner-occupied properties isn’t even the major problem. It’s when an investor outbids a family for a second property and turns it into a full-time Airbnb.
Or worse, when a holiday rental company does so.
Or worse, when a highly-leveraged hedge fund buys a swath of holiday rental companies.
Or worse, when a sovereign wealth fund buys a portfolio of hedge funds.
That’s why, if something radical doesn’t change, the average house will cost $10+ million within 50 years, and no one you know will be able to afford to own a home.
Just picture the future, my friends. Do the math. Airbnb’s corporate mandate is to grow exponentially forever. If new housing construction doesn’t keep up — and it hasn’t for more than a decade — it’s mathematically impossible that the predatory company won’t take hundreds of millions of houses away from real families in the decades ahead.
As I drove through Airbnb ghost towns, I think about Isaiah 5:8–9:
“Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants.”
Airbnb crushes renters
In addition to stripping housing supply from local communities and commodifying residential real estate, which causes house sale prices to rise, house rental prices for working families have skyrocketed. That is, when rentals don’t disappear entirely.
Because a land-lorder can always make more money via Airbnb than from a monthly renter, rents are crushingly competitive and shelter costs are insane in nearly every city on earth.
In Australia, 35% of Airbnbs aren’t even owned by the listed host; they’re simply subletting them to vacationers in a perverse game of real estate arbitrage.
I personally know dozens of people who’ve been pushed out of communities where they grew up because now it’s just Touristville. But for those who can afford to stay, they’re paying the extra cost of competing with vacationers.
In other words, Airbnb has made life more difficult and mathematically miserable for literally every person in every one of the 65,000 cities in which Airbnb operates.
And again, Airbnb is just getting started.
According to the company’s own IPO filing documents, they have plans to wage legal war against 100,000+ cities in order to continue to grow and metastasize forever. Just listen to how the NYC Council put it:
“Airbnb consistently undermines the City’s efforts to preserve affordable housing, and regularly attempts to thwart regulations put in place to protect New York City residents.”
If you look at the predator corporation’s trajectory, you can see things pretty clearly:
Airbnb’s business model is contributing to the greatest humanitarian shelter crisis in human history.
Airbnb destroys communities
My village is intolerable on summer weekends. Airbnb guests drink more. They park where they please. Their cars are more likely to have a loud muffler or a blasting speaker system. They’re far more likely to litter cigarette butts and plastic bottles. They regularly let their dogs crap in the park without picking it up. They break the night-noise curfew with impunity.
And why would they care? They don’t live here. They don’t have roots here. They don’t have skin in the game. They’re not invested. There’s no need to be neighborly.
Like cruise ships invading small island nations, Airbnbers raiding pretty villages causes a huge breakdown to communities, as towns transform into temporary resorts instead of places where real people can raise families.
This is how towns die.
On the street where I live, one in four houses sits empty for much of the week, but they’re packed with tourists on the weekend. It’s now a nearly-impossible place to raise a family, as sale prices have skyrocketed and rentals are simply non-existent. One acquaintance recently broke down weeping at our door — she lost her apartment and there was literally nothing else available anywhere remotely near her price range.
One of our village friends, a former police officer, lost her longtime resident-neighbor to a full-time Airbnb investor. Soon the house was crawling with partiers who parked on her lawn and blocked her driveway. After complaining dozens of times, the landlord came for a visit and spoke his “truth” bluntly:
“At the end of the day, I live two hundred miles away and just don’t give a f#@k.”
Airbnb trashes cities
Let’s face it: We all drink more when we’re on vacation.
Airbnb renters also purchase more pre-packaged meals and one-use items such as lighters and portable BBQs, along with all the condiments and plastic-packaged accessories they forgot to bring from home.
Many can’t be bothered to sort their trash properly. I rarely see the Airbnbs in my village make use of our five-box system. Instead of putting out separate recycling, compost, paper, metal, and glass, Airbnbers just chuck it all in the grey bag, which means our local environment pays the price.
And remember: the Airbnb hosts aren’t paying extra for all this extra garbage collection. The commons is shouldering the public burden so Airbnb can capture private profits.
Airbnb poisons villages
Because of the massive influx of visitors every weekend and all summer, target communities are suffering from increased congestion.
In my village, this means poorer air quality and poorer health for local residents, as tourists idle on busy roads in their gear-laden vehicles.
And speaking of killing the planet: Because locals can no longer afford to live in their home cities, workers are forced to move further and further away from their jobs, adding billions of hours to their collective daily commutes and untold amounts of pollution to the air.
Why doesn’t Airbnb have to pay the full cost of the pain they’re causing?
Airbnb endangers children (and everyone else)
No, I’m not (overly) worried about an out-of-towner kidnapping or assaulting my child.
I’m talking about speeding.
Tourists seem to think that speed limits are optional.
Maybe they’re just unfamiliar with the terrain, but they absolutely fly through town, nearly smoking kids and adults on a daily basis.
In response, our village has had to spend thousands of our dollars on traffic-calming measures just to keep ourselves safe.
Airbnb disrupts local economies
When a community is stable and free of Airbnb, businesses can regulate stock and expect steady flows. When Airbnbers flood in, it’s like locusts have raided the place. In our town, the grocery store has such a hard time with the irregular influxes that locals have to return repeatedly because items are regularly out of stock.
Worse still, when Airbnb really takes over a village as it has mine, locals are left with a ghost town all winter (which shutters the once-thriving shops) and then a town packed with marauding strangers all summer.
Airbnb shutters schools
“The local housing problem does reflect in the school numbers. Young people and families can’t be housed in the village due to house prices.” — City councillor Wyn Roberts on the closing of his town’s school
My wife and I had our first baby seven months ago. There’s an extremely strong chance that our local school will be closed before our boy gets a chance to attend.
Because remember, Airbnb owners often receive tax exemptions or small business rates. (In a nearby county, 6,849 grifters are registered to pay zero tax while making a profit by ruining a community.) Without thousands of people contributing their fair share, council budgets constrict. And schools are expensive.
And the government has the perfect cover story: Since Airbnb has driven out all the real families, there just aren’t enough kids in town to justify keeping it open anyway.
It’s a downward self-fulfilling spiral.
Airbnb impoverishes the poor
In my county, there are over 4,000 non-owner-occupied properties, eroding the tax base while increasing house prices. Guess how many impoverished people are on the list and in dire need of affordable housing in our county?
Our county — because they’re so “strapped for funds” because of leeches like Airbnb hosts — built just 21 affordable houses last year. At the current rate, the family at the bottom of the affordable housing list will have to wait their entire lives to have an affordable place to live.
Airbnb fights democracy
Airbnb realizes that fighting democratic cities in court will be a long-term risk to their profitability:
“Compliance with laws and regulations of different jurisdictions imposing varying standards and requirements is burdensome for businesses like ours… We have in the past, and are likely in the future, to become involved in disputes with government agencies...” — Airbnb’s SEC filing
Did you catch that? Obeying the law is “burdensomne,” so Airbnb fully plans to wage war on the global public.
When Airbnb isn’t suing taxpayers, they’re buying politicians. And let’s face it, the rest of the world calls corporate lobbying what it actually is: bribing. Why does Airbnb have 13 lobbying firms in Congress? Why did they hire a PR firm to meet with Scottish delegates on 28 occasions? Why did they fund more than 400 fake grassroots organizations?
Because Airbnb knows their company is a pox on the commons.
My plea to all Airbnb users
Just stop using Airbnb (and other holiday rental companies) that take residential family homes off the market.
Many young families say they “can’t afford” to stay at a hotel with a kitchen. And if that’s actually true, they should just stay home. Your desire to have a kitchen on vacation doesn’t trump every other family’s real need for affordable shelter.
It’s a tiny sacrifice that you simply must make for the sake of your global family.
It’s tempting to think that people could just use Airbnbs that are owner-occupied, but the reality is that Airbnb uses its profits to steamroll democracy.
By renting an Airbnb, you’re undermining justice, democracy, and the long-term health and well-being of civil society.
Vacationers can do the right thing. We just need to get creative:
We can stay at a hotel, motel, resort, or registered bed and breakfast in a commercial zone.
We can camp.
We can glamp.
We can house-sit.
We can stay at an eco-village.
We can rent or borrow a motor home.
We can house-swap with friends or family.
We can build a $1,000 cabin in our backyards.
We can use house-swapping platforms, which decommodify the vacation process by allowing you to earn points by letting people stay in your house for free while you’re away, to then spend on stays at other people’s houses for free when they’re away.
We can seriously question the long-term value of rootedness and family and community, practice the Golden Rule, and just save up a little longer before taking an honorable holiday.
It’s deeply ironic that the three Airbnb founders who couldn’t make rent are now making it harder for millions of families to keep a roof over their heads. People are literally suffering and dying on the streets so that more “Airbnb Stories” can be captured on camera.
Affordable housing — a real need for the poor — must take priority over the luxurious wants of the wealthy.
So please do the right thing.
Delete your Airbnb account.
Never use them again.
And tell all your friends.
If your summer vacation comes at the cost of someone else’s pain and suffering, it’s simply not worth it.
Plus, the memories will always be tainted by the knowledge that your family vacation cost another family their home.
Jared A. Brock is an award-winning biographer, PBS documentarian, and the cell-free founder of the popular futurist blog Surviving Tomorrow, where he provides thoughtful people with contrarian perspectives on the corporatist anti-culture. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Guardian, Smithsonian, USA Today, and TIME Magazine, and he has traveled to more than forty countries including North Korea. Join 20,000+ people who follow him on Medium, Twitter, and Substack.