Presence more Airbnbs the neighborhood may be associated with more crime – but not in the way you might think.
Researchers from the University of Northeastern reviewed data in Boston from 2011 to 2018, periods of sustainable growth on Airbnb’s lists and growing concerns about crime. They found that certain violent crimes – beatings, robberies, reports that someone was holding a knife – tended to increase in the neighborhood a year or more after the number of Airbnbs increased – a sign, researchers say, of a declining social order.
“You’re basically disrupting a neighborhood’s natural ability to manage crime,” says Dan O’Brien, one of the authors. The study was published on Wednesday u PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.
Interestingly, the researchers found that crime reports did not increase at the same time as the number of Airbnbs in the neighborhood increased, suggesting that tourists staying in these rented homes did not commit crimes or attract crimes.
“It’s not the visitors themselves who are the problem, the fact is that you’ve taken a bunch of units that would function normally, contributing to community members from the social network,” O’Brien says.
In addition, researchers found that other types of crime, including complaints of noise, public intoxication, domestic violence, and landlord-tenant disputes, did not increase because more units in the neighborhood were listed on Airbnb.
Airbnb challenged the methodology and conclusions of the study. In a statement, the spokesman said that the researchers came to “incorrect conclusions that are not supported by evidence”.
A spokesman questioned whether the researchers controlled other factors, such as new housing and overall economic conditions. A spokesman expressed concern about generalizing findings from one city to a broader national trend.
In addition, a spokesman said the researcher’s method of tracking new Airbnb lists was wrong because it relied on it when a user “joined” the platform. A spokesman said someone could sign up for the website as a guest but not become a host for years, making it difficult to track changes to the lists over time.
To measure Airbnb’s impact, researchers looked at the total number of lists in neighborhoods as the degree to which they were grouped on specific blocks. They divided “crime” into three categories: social disorder, private conflict, and public violence.
Social disturbance refers to complaints of noise, public intoxication, and general clutter that is often associated with tourists. O’Brien speculated that the small impact that Airbnb has on this definition of crime could be because social disruption often occurs near bars and restaurants, which are mostly downtown rather than suburbs or settlements where they are concentrated Airbnb lists.
Private conflict refers to domestic violence or disputes between landlords and tenants, all of which indicate disturbances in the house. This did not increase during the study period either. But the third type of crime, public violence, is. These are fights, robberies, 911 reports that someone was holding a knife and so on.
The article builds on existing sociological theories of social organization: the idea that a community of close neighbors who know and trust each other establishes and enforces their own social norms, reducing crime. Basically, the researchers found that what was behind the rise in violence was not the presence of tourists or visitors, but absence long-term residents who are integrated into the community.
It is important that this dynamic takes time to emerge. If it was just the presence of messy tourists, crime would increase at the same time as the number of visitors increases. Instead, researchers found a lag – violence tended to rise a year or two after the census increased.
“Every time we look back behind, it’s actually more influential,” O’Brien says.
This “erosion” eventually spreads from both public to private: researchers have noticed an increase in private violence that occurs two years after the census increased.