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To Airbnb or not to Airbnb, that is Seattle’s question

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Arguments for and against regulating short-term rentals have Seattle torn

A lack of available housing inventory is a large part of the reason that Seattle’s housing prices are through the roof. That’s caused some like Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess to take a closer look at short-term rentals (such as Airbnb or VRBO) and whether or not the city is being too lenient about letting property owners take those valuable houses and apartments off the market. Burgess has proposed limiting the number of days that someone can offer a property as a short-term rental if they don’t live there as well as requiring special licenses and stronger regulations.

The question that many in Seattle are asking themselves is...would this actually have any effect on the housing inventory?

Many who attended Wednesday’s city council meeting certainly don’t think so. A coalition against the new regulations says short-term rentals comprise only one percent of Seattle’s total housing and any restrictions would have little to no impact.

“This is kind of a one-size-fits-none regulation,” Don Mackenzie, a homeowner who rents his second property when his mother isn’t visiting, said at the hearing. “I think it’s going to cause more problems than it solves.”

Airbnb has released new data regarding their economic impact on Seattle in an attempt to prove that they’re part of the solution and not the problem. According to them, Seattle Airbnb users generated $180 million in economic activity in 2015. They claim that 87 percent of Airbnb hosts in Seattle rent out a space in their personal residence (which would be exempt from new regulations) and that the typical Airbnb listing in Seattle is rented 80 nights per year (meaning the new cap wouldn’t affect them).

FYI Guy Gene Balk dug into the numbers as well and noticed that in the last year alone Airbnb rentals have skyrocketed across Seattle, implying that the company’s 2015 data is already irrelevant.

There are 27 hosts in Seattle who have six or more properties listed on the site. In total, these hosts manage 449 whole units, or 16 percent of the listings in Seattle. One host who uses the screen name Daniela has the most listings of any individual — 54.

The report shows the explosiveness of Airbnb’s growth in Seattle. Between September 2015 and April 2016, the number of whole units listed jumped by 665 — a 31 percent increase. Nearly half of these were listed by hosts with two or more properties on Airbnb.

Balk notes that Belltown is the most Airbnb-packed neighborhood while Bitter Lake/Greenwood is the fastest-growing hub for short-term rentals (60 percent jump in last year).

And so, this is the quandary Seattle face. Airbnb and other short-term rentals haven't had a huge impact on inventory historically, but recent data suggests that it might be now. Even so, would regulations do anything to make a dent in Seattle's housing shortage?