By Beth Treffeisen
On a quiet residential street in Charlestown, Joe Bianco, a long-time resident has been a host for Airbnb, an online home sharing community, for five years. During that time he has had over 400 reservations with guests staying an average of three nights.
For Bianco who is now retired, being able to rent out the bottom part of his house that once belonged to his grandmother has allowed him to be able to stay in an otherwise expensive neighborhood.
“It’s a neighborhood that people know,” said Bianco. “I know most of my neighbors and they know what I do. A lot actually interact with the guests.”
Bianco has hosted guests traveling from around the country, Canada and Western Europe. He said because of the high hotel prices in Boston, Airbnb provides a cheaper alternative, allowing people who normally couldn’t afford it to see the city.
“People who use Airbnb do not want to stay in a sterile environment of a hotel,” said Bianco. “They want to live amongst the people.”
But, this experience may soon change. At the October 19, Boston City Council meeting, Councilor Salvatore LaMattina brought forth an order for a hearing regarding for-profit lodging in personal residences.
The order asks that the hearing discuss considering regulations and possibly enacting hotel taxes. It also asks to look into possibly banning the leasing of a private residential space for less than 30 days unless the owner is living on the property.
In Boston there are currently 2,300 active hosts that on average each have guests 46 nights per year. There were 172,000 inbound guest arrivals over the last year.
The average cost to stay in an Airbnb is from $150 to $270 per night.
In October, Jamaica Plain had 290 rentals, Beacon Hill had 199 rentals, both the South End and Back Bay each had over 300 rentals, Fenway/ Kenmore area had 258 and Charlestown had 99. The number of units fluctuates during the seasons, with the highest in the summer months.
At the hearing, LaMattina brought up how several companies including Airbnb, Flipkey, HomeAway, Craigslist and others have been operating to allow property owners to market beds, rooms or entire homes for overnight rentals in residential areas throughout the city for the purpose of generating income.
“I have heard from my constituents that they have concerns about living next to these Airbnb’s,” said LaMattina at the hearing. “For them it’s a quality of life and public safety issue.”
For LaMattina, his major concern is how Airbnb and other online rental services are taking permanent housing away from neighborhoods that are already experiencing a tight market.
He stated that it is making it harder for working families to find housing and stay in the neighborhoods.
“Another major concern I have is that investors are buying up properties,” said LaMattina. “And in a lot of cases displacing longtime residents and turning those proprieties to virtual hotels.”
Councilor Tito Jackson was very concerned about proceeding.
“A lot of people are using it to supplement their income when they are in-between jobs or to make ends meet in one of the most expensive city’s in America,” said Jackson at the hearing.
Councilor Ayanna Pressley thinks the council should proceed with intentional and smart regulations.
“Airbnb is operating at a steep advantage so we have to consider what is that impact on our hotels and that workforce,” said Pressely at the hearing.
Last month Airbnb conducted a poll amongst residents in Boston regarding their views about home sharing. It found that 54 percents of Boston voters have a favorable impression of Airbnb, while 15 percent say they are unfavorable toward the company.
“Airbnb continues to work cooperatively with the City of Boston and looks forward to continued progress towards sensible regulation and fair taxation – benefiting the local economy and our community of hosts and guests,” wrote Airbnb in response to current discussions in Boston.
On the state level, there was a bill proposed in 2015 to regulate for-profit lodging in personal residences but it didn’t pass.
“Very few people really know what we were talking about,” said State House Representative Aaron Michlewitz, who covers the North End down into the South End.
Ever since, he said, it has really been about evaluating what the pros and cons of the industry are.
“It’s a new innovative way of traveling and we don’t want to stifle the growth,” said Michlewitz.
He pointed out that one of the main issues is that there is no tax compared to hotels and other types of similar services.
Michlewitz also noted that there is no way for current building owners to know if their apartments are being used for Airbnb unless they look up their address on the website.
He would like to see in the future a type of registration that would notify the building owners or inform the condo association that this happening within the building.
“We have to find the right balance to allow this to continue and grow,” said Michlewitz.
There will be another filing at the State House he expects in the upcoming January session.
But for Bianco, who has stood behind Airbnb from the start, he hopes that he will be able to continue to use the site into the future.
“Hundreds of people do this and only a handful of people are taking advantage of this,” said Bianco. “But ultimately it’s going to affect me and it’s going affect us.”