OPINION: Airbnb in the High Country: A new form of gentrification


Jackson Futch

As homeless rates in America rise by 2.2%, cities try to face a new threat, short-term rentals. Companies, like the innovator Airbnb, let individuals rent out their private property as vacation spots for customers, much like a traditional hotel. However, this seemingly innocent and helpful tool for local property owners has a direct link to gentrification and the housing crisis in America.  

The members of the Boone Town Council are some of the most recent legislators to consider taking on this flourishing new industry. The council is considering adopting laws laid out by the city of Asheville as a new approach to regulating the industry. These regulations are a must for Boone as they can help limit the housing crisis and protect  locals from exploitative property practices. 

Asheville legislators decided to take a different approach than other cities like New York and Los Angeles. Asheville completely eliminated any use of homestays as rentals. This means that in order to list, you must live in the dwelling full time, only rent one to two bedrooms for less than 30 days and not have a kitchen. A kitchen is quantified by the inclusion of a stove, full-sized refrigerator or a kitchen sink. These strict rules are vital to the success of the regulations. Researchers Shirley Nieuwland and Rainne van Melik found that lighter regulations, like the ones in most cities, often get ignored by the landlords and short term rental companies if they can even be enforced. This leaves solutions like Asheville’s as the last option for hurting areas. 

Past the logistics of enforcement, Airbnb regulation will have a more human effect on the Boone community. The Pew Research Center found that young and poor Americans have faced the most difficulties in the housing market since the Great Depression. STRs are only making it harder on already disenfranchised sects of citizens. STRs, like Airbnb, have been shown to increase the rent gap

In their study, Airbnb and the rent gap: Gentrification through the sharing economy, researchers David Wachsmuth and Alexander Weisler define the rent gap as a space that can emerge between a property’s real value and the income that the landlord can pull from it. This basic separation is what leads to all forms of gentrification. In the context of STRs, the rent gap will occur because the more affluent tourist is able and willing to pay more for a shorter stay than a full-time renter would be. Landlords have capitalized upon this principle so they can squeeze more profits from their houses. Renters and locals are then expunged from the area as they are seen as a drain to the people they once could live under.

The enforcement of the Asheville-esque STR laws could act to stop this modernist form of gentrification from taking hold and strangling Boone renters. Limiting what can be posted as homestays would mean that full-time rental properties could not be easily changed to STRs. This extra level of difficulty could be what keeps more affordable housing on the market for the suffering working class and the fledgling homeowner. 

All of these factors are especially important for the town of Boone. Less populated areas that already have a strong tourism base, much like Asheville and Boone, see more negative than positive effects from STRs. Watauga County has some of the worst homeless rates in North Carolina, with .42% of the total population being homeless, a group expanding due to the shocks of gentrification. The county also has a higher rate of young adults and low-income families due to App State’s presence in the area. 

Boone must take action to stop the devastating effects of the STR industry. Asheville has given a good blueprint to follow, and the opportunity to put it into practice is available. There is an obligation citizens hold to help one another to better the collective good. The homeless and poor working class in Boone are hurting, and this is the way to reach out and offer a bit of grace.