The numbers of properties available around our region on the massive online lodging services Airbnb and VRBO can catch one’s breath. A random scan of Woodstock pulls up around 200 listings on each service, with only about one third duplicating. The Stone Ridge area has over 120 Airbnb rooms and homes for rent, versus 12 on VRBO. Saugerties’ numbers come in at 79 and 61, respectively, with Kingston at 5 on VRBO and 50 for Airbnb. New Paltz has 37 VRBO rentals and 28 on Airbnb. There are 26 Airbnb options in the Belleayre area and nothing on VRBO. Go across the river and Rhinebeck area numbers are in the high dozens while Hudson settles in over 100 on both lists.
All told, Airbnb has 630 listings for the general Catskills area and over 1000 for the Hudson Valley, while VRBO has 916 for the Catskills and 585 in the Hudson Valley.
Definitions of geographic areas shift and change on both websites, as do the numbers of available properties depending on season. Just a month ago, when the leaves were peaking with color, Woodstock area numbers were double what they were this week. Figures were occasionally in the 500 range for both listing services during the summer. But occasionally they’d drop.
With so much talk about lodging room shortages throughout the region, it seems this relatively new economic market has started to accommodate that need. It’s also provided steady streams of extra income for many with larger homes, and some big flows to those with enough capital to set aside properties solely for “vacation rental” income, which is considerably higher than one can get from regular monthly rents.
It augments other elements of new “sharable income,” from the taxi alternative Uber, still urban-based and not yet showing any presence in the Hudson Valley, and Zipcars, which have set up outlets on all our region’s college campuses already.
But it also raises questions about a growing number of controversies surrounding issues of competitiveness, taxable income, and regulation.
Last month, state Attorney general Eric Schneiderman released a report on Airbnb’s presence and effects in New York City, drawing on four years of figures supplied by the company that’s said to be valued at $10 billion and is contemplating going public in the coming years. Entitled Airbnb in the City, it charted 497,322 private stays in 35,354 unique places that were for less than 30 days and did not involve a shared room, but characterized three quarters of those rentals as being illegal by violating zoning codes. Furthermore, it was found that one third of all the city’s rentals were by commercial entities, some of whom were renting out apartments that would normally be on the open market.
“The rapid rise of short-term rental platforms like Airbnb have dramatically expanded the use of traditional apartments as transient hotel rooms — sparking a public debate in New York and in communities worldwide about the real-world consequences of this online marketplace,” Schneiderman’s report noted. “Where supporters of Airbnb and other rental sites see a catalyst for entrepreneurship, critics see a threat to the safety, affordability, and residential character of local communities. Are the new platforms fueling a black market for unsafe hotels? By bidding up the price of apartments in popular areas, do short-term rentals make metropolitan areas like New York City less affordable? Is the influx of out-of-town visitors upsetting the quiet of longstanding residential neighborhoods?”
While some of the things charted in the report would likely never migrate north, such as the creation of hostel-like situations in apartments and an overall raising of all rents in a neighborhood, its very presence has opened some local eyes to a phenomenon that’s grown exponentially in the last two to three years. Yet for many it’s still so new they haven’t formed policies towards any of it.