Is there a link between Airbnb and neighborhood crime rates?
Recent results from a Boston neighborhood study show a link between the presence of Airbnb and crime in the neighborhood. But while this is obviously baffling for Airbnb as a “brand,” that does not mean that Airbnb as an organizational entity is itself a major factor in crime rates.
It also doesn’t mean that you should cancel your planned vacation in an Airbnb rental.
[Editor’s Note: The authors of the study, published in PLOS ONE July 14, said their findings support “the notion that the prevalence of Airbnb listings erodes the natural ability of a neighborhood to prevent crime, but [do] does not support the interpretation that a high number of tourists bring crime with them. “]
The ingenuity of this study was its methodological use of Airbnb ads as a proxy measure of neighborhood instability in examining crime patterns.
There is a long sociological tradition documenting and explaining the link between neighborhood instability and crime. In 1942, Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay were the first to publish their findings demonstrating and explaining the disorganizing influence of constant population turnover on a community’s ability to achieve common goals, namely to deter gang activity. delinquents.
In a nutshell, their thesis, supported by research over the years, was that constant population turnover hereditarily destabilized a community. The constant turnover of the population creates a lack of familiarity and mistrust among the residents, preventing them from working together informally to fight crime.
A few decades later, in 1979, Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson expanded their knowledge on the matter, noting how criminal opportunities presented themselves in a neighborhood based on the level of motivated offenders, the number of appropriate targets, and the level of adequate guardianship. existing within a neighborhood.
Although the study using Airbnbs does not measure anything about who uses and lists Airbnbs, it does provide insight into the routine activities of neighborhood life.
The density of Airbnb listings in a neighborhood provides a measure of the extent to which a neighborhood’s properties are not occupied over the long term. Such properties, by their nature, appear less protected, making them more attractive targets for potential criminals.
However, there are limits to what to deduce from this unique study that Airbnb should take umbrage with.
By the authors ‘own admission, Airbnbs’ dense lists reveal more about the possible obstacles already present in a neighborhood in terms of crime prevention. Airbnb listings may reflect the lack of long-term stability in residence patterns and recent attempts to market this reality.
It’s important to echo the authors’ argument that their findings did NOT support the idea that Airbnb ads attract strangers who bring crime with them, thereby contributing to any increase in crime.
An earlier study of Airbnb ads in Florida counties found that these correlations with crime were related to the type of Airbnb ads. This study found a positive correlation with crime, but in areas with a greater concentration of Airbnb listings of shared room types, rather than entire homes.
A correlation with the types of shared rooms, compared to listings for single-family homes, reinforces the idea that Airbnb listings may only be indirectly linked to an increase in crime in neighborhoods.
The most important variable in the explanation is the initial level of transient in the population of a neighborhood that prevents a community from achieving its goals.
Airbnbs can have a positive impact in a neighborhood by generating new flows of economic activity. However, at what cost?
Are Airbnb ad owners actual residents of the neighborhoods they mention? Are they strangers whose profits are diverted from the community? Do the dollars generated by Airbnbs users outweigh the possible expenses that could lead to a greater vulnerability to crime?
Research into the possible negative implications with reference to this form of shared economy or gig is ongoing.
Communities should beware of an alarmist reaction to such early findings, but community leaders would also be wise to establish oversight bodies and consider restrictions on the types and forms of listings that may be available. in their neighborhoods.
There have been a significant number of potential beneficiaries in the Airbnb marketplace, but the form of community in which such activity takes place is the best predictor of its possible impacts on local crime rates.
Additional Reading: “Masked Trio Breaks Into NYC Airbnb While Guests Asleep”
Kent Bausman, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology in the online sociology program at Maryville University in St. Louis. An expert in economic inequalities and criminology, he recently published a study in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology that links job volatility to higher levels of criminal activity.