When Airbnbs increase in a neighborhood, so does crime. Here’s why. – News @ Northeast

A proliferation of Airbnbs, or similar short-term rentals, in a neighborhood is contributing to higher crime rates in the area, according to a new study by two Northeast researchers.

The relationship is probably due to the fact that the very transient housing “pierces holes in the social fabric of the neighborhood”, explains Dan O’Brien, associate professor of public policy and urban affairs who, with his colleague Babak Heydari, associate professor of engineering, recently published an in-depth study Airbnb ads and neighborhood crime rates in Boston.

They found that it was the proportion of buildings with at least one roommate list – and not the volume of tourists passing through such units – that had the greatest (indeed, the only) measurable effect on crime in the city. the neighborhood. Their research was published Wednesday in PLOS A, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.

Babak Heydari is Associate Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the College of Engineering and one of the authors of a new article linking the increased presence of Airbnb rentals to the rise in crime. Photo by Matthew Modoono / Northeastern University

“What appears to be the problem is that Airbnb is removing households from the neighborhood’s social network and eroding its natural ability to handle crime,” says O’Brien, who also studies criminology and criminal justice in Northeastern.

The researchers hope their study can help guide local and regional policy decisions regarding short-term rental regulations.

O’Brien and Heydari compiled data from 911 calls and Airbnb listings and reviews from 2011 to 2018, a time of growing concern about crime and during which listings on the home-sharing platform online more than doubled in Boston. They found that some violent crimes, including brawls, robberies, and knife-wielding reports, tended to increase in a neighborhood a year or more after the number of Airbnbs increased.

The lag, Heydari says, is proof that it is not the immediate presence of rowdy tourists or criminals taking advantage of new arrivals that is driving up crime. Such effects would be seen in the same year that enrollment increased, and not thereafter.

“What we’re seeing is evidence of a slower process, which becomes important over the years,” he says. “It is another support that the change in the social fabric of the neighborhood is what underlies these results. “

In response to a request for comment, an Airbnb spokesperson returned a News @ North East journalist to a written response published on company website. The missive challenges the study’s methodology and findings and questions whether the researchers controlled for other factors such as new housing construction and other economic conditions.

Daniel O’Brien is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Criminology and Criminal Justice at the College of Social and Human Sciences. He also heads the Boston Area Research Initiative. Photo by Adam Glanzman / Northeastern University

To measure Airbnb’s presence in the city, O’Brien and Heydari used a combination of available geographic data taken from website listings and the “host from” feature on the company’s website, which records the location. year a host joined the site. They organized the data by longitude and latitude and associated it with census tracts to approximate city neighborhoods.

This gave researchers an idea of ​​the number of Airbnb units per neighborhood, but not their distribution. Street.

To determine this distribution, which they describe as the penetration of Airbnb units in each neighborhood, the researchers divided the number of unique addresses with listings by the number of plots in the census tract. The calculation resulted in an approximate measure of the proportion of buildings with at least one listing.

The Green Line stops at Northeastern on July 17, 2017. Photo by Adam Glanzman / Northeastern University

Heydari and O’Brien relied on data about when a user ‘joined’ Airbnb because the platform doesn’t provide more specific data, but researchers agree their proxy isn’t always a representation perfect the moment the units have arisen in the buildings.

“This serves to highlight the need for Airbnb – and other social networks and web platforms – to be more transparent about their data,” Heydari said.

The researchers also took into account other unrelated changes in neighborhoods that may have had an effect on crime rates, including rental transience and socio-demographic shifts, Heydari says.

And although their data is limited to Boston, the motivating theory that a community of neighbors who know and care about each other is a powerful deterrent against crime is a theory that can be carried over to cities and towns. communities across the country, according to the researchers.

“What we’re showing here is that when we determine the other factors, we see that Airbnb’s penetration has a role in a gradual increase in crime,” Heydari said. “This effect is not specific to Boston, although other cities and neighborhoods may contain factors that alter the degree of presence.”

For media inquiries, please contact Jessica Hair at [email protected] or 617-373-5718.

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