27 October

Short-term rentals (STRs) impacting housing and impacted by Covid-19

  • 10:00 - 12:00
  • Zoom

Short-term rental (STR) digital platforms like Airbnb is a growing trend with millions of listings in thousands of cities worldwide. This phenomenon affects the local communities as it impacts especially housing, the remaking of the cities and the urban governance. However, during the emerging Covid-19 related crisis, STRs are challenged as tourism and mobility in general are affected by international, national and local emergent restrictions and regulations. STRs flourished during the recent global financial crisis but they are “struck” by the new unfolding one. Does that mean that the urban housing situation will recover or the urban footprint of STRs cannot just be erased?

During the workshop research teams and independent researchers from around Europe will present their research on STRs and their impact on housing and local communities but also the challenges that the pandemic imposed on them. 

Jelke Bosma. Airbnb as essential urban infrastructure

Airbnb rentals plummeted as the Covid-19 pandemic spread over the world. For some time, it seemed like Airbnb would not be able to weather the crisis. Still, by now Airbnb has announced its IPO and has not been passively waiting for the pandemic to pass over either. The company has been establishing new partnerships with a wide range of actors including NGOs, public health authorities, and local and national governments. While Airbnb is by now a well-known player in the global tourism and hospitality market, these organisations are either government agencies or non-governmental organisations that perform functions commonly associated with states, such as health care, humanitarian aid and urban governance. In this presentation, I explore Airbnb’s current and past partnerships and question what they mean for how we should understand what Airbnb is. I argue that by building such partnerships, Airbnb aims to reinforce its position as ‘essential’ urban infrastructure and recasts itself as a ‘solution’ instead of a problem for both urban authorities and city dwellers.

Jelke Bosma is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam. His research interests include platform urbanism, housing and urban theory. His PhD project looks into dynamics of value within Airbnb and is part of the ERC-funded project Platform Labor. The project comprises of a comparative ethnographic study, looking at Airbnb in Amsterdam, Berlin and New York. 

Chiara Iacovone

Platform economies are a capillary presence in today’s economic system, through digital transmission and physical expansion they represent a sprawling regeneration of capitalistic structure. Airbnb, as one of the main peer-to-peer rental platform, captures the most profitable asset that drive the global economy, the real estate market. My work is based on the analysis of Airbnb data and its critical configuration in post-financial crisis territories, stressing its strong connection with the financialization of real estate sector. The research analyses how austerity policies have had an impact on further urbanization processes in 4 cities of the so- called European PIGS (Lisbon, Madrid, Naples and Athens).

The analysis of Airbnb data focuses on the ‘multi-hosts’ (Airbnb hosts with multiple properties). In particular on whose are the actors involved behind the platform — such as: property managers groups, real estate firms and construction companies. Taking advantages from local policies of liberalization of real estate market and capital attraction programs, those commercial actors are using the platform as a channel to speculate in the housing market, eventually adopting financial tools such as REITs and private equity funds.

Such discourses allow a broader view on the development of Airbnb in relation with the global trend of financialization of housing, highlighting the political consequence of platform urbanization. So, the aim is to retrace the financial chain of the real estate market through the lens of Airbnb. The recent events of the global pandemic open up further questions on such issues. How does the real estate market respond to this crisis? Which are the new frontiers in which the STR market is reinventing itself? Does this really will change something in terms of urban policies to contrast the monoculture industry of tourism?

Chiara Iacovone is an urban geographer with a background in architecture. She is currently a PhD candidate at Politecnico di Torino and a member of the interdepartmental research centre Future Urban Legacy Lab.

Agustín Cocola-Gant and Simone Tulumello

Between 2014 and 2019, amid a fast national growth deeply shaped by real estate and tourism, Lisbon has been among the fast-growing markets for Short Term Rentals. The latter, in turn, have been among the key drivers of processes of gentrification, touristification and financialization. In late 2020, few months into a global pandemic, many thousands STR units have been sitting empty in a city that has been dramatically reshaped by the almost complete disappearance of touristic flows.

In this presentation, we will present the case of Lisbon in three steps: first, by tracing the boom of the STR rental market; second, by discussing the professionalization of the STR ‘sharing economy’, and its prospects in times of pandemic; and, third, by reflecting on the wider consequences of STR boom/burst for urban change.

This presentation stems at the intersection of our work on projects ‘HOPES: Housing Perspectives and Struggles’ (co-PI: Simone Tulumello) and ‘SMARTOUR: tourism, holiday rentals and rehabilitation’ (PI: Augustín Cocola-Gant), both funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia.

Agustín Cocola-Gant (PhD in Human Geography, Cardiff University, and PhD in Art History, University of Barcelona) is a Research Fellow at the Instituto de Geografia e Ordenamento do Território da Universidade de Lisboa (IGOT-ULisboa). His research focuses on tourism and urban restructuring and pays particular attention to the connections between tourism and gentrification as well as to the role of Airbnb in driving real estate investment and neighbourhood change. He has recently received a Marie Curie Fellowship to implement the ‘Short-term rentals and housing financialization’ project at the University of Leeds, UK. He teaches Tourism Geography at the M.A. Tourism and Communication (IGOT-ULisboa). 

Simone Tulumello (PhD Urban and Regional Planning; University of Palermo) is an assistant research professor at the University of Lisbon, Institute of Social Sciences (ICS-ULisboa); and member of the coordination of the PhD in Development Studies of the University of Lisbon. His research interests span at the border between planning research, human geography and critical urban studies: housing policy and politics; austerity and neoliberal urban policy; security, fear and urban violence; Southern European and Southern US cities. His first monograph, Fear, Space and Urban Planning: A Critical Perspective from Southern Europe, was published in 2017 by Springer.

Dimitris Pettas. The impact of the pandemic upon tourism, housing and short-term rentals in Athens, Greece

The presentation will focus on the impact of the pandemic – both during and after the lockdown period – on housing conditions, urban life and the short-term rentals landscape in Athens. During the last few years, Athens is experiencing a substantial increase in tourist inflows, while transforming from a one-day stop destination during summer to a year-round, city-break destination. Digitally mediated short-term rentals provided the necessary infrastructure for such a development, while also underplayed a key role in the touristification processes that unfold in the center of the city. Starting as a rather spontaneous, bottom-up and fragmental practice, the STR market rapidly attracted the interest of foreign investors and funds, transforming into an organized mode of private-led urban development. Within this environment, the COVID19 outbreak caused a huge disruption in the STR landscape. The presentation draws upon initial indications of how well-established housing inequalities were further deepened and how STR were affected by the pandemic, while formulating hypotheses concerning the future of STR in Athens.

Dimitris Pettas is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning, Technical University of Berlin (TUB). His project, DweLinks explores the qualitative, geographical, and space-transformative characteristics of platform economy in Athens, Greece and Berlin, Germany. He has worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Regional Development Institute (Panteion University), the National Technical University of Athens and the Research Centre for the Humanities. He has also been a lecturer in the Social and “Solidarity Economy” postgraduate programme at the Hellenic Open University. His research interests include the study of: the social and relational production of public space, the development of platform economy and its impact on urban environment, the role of power relations and agency in modes of urban governance, the emergence and broader transformative potentionalities of grassroots collaborative and social/ solidarity economy initiatives.

James Muldoon. ‘Communitywashing’ Big Tech

This paper introduces the idea of ‘communitywashing’ to describe Airbnb’s marketing strategy of cloaking their business activities as a form of community building. Airbnb pioneered a new form of user activism by creating fake grassroots organisations made up of Airbnb hosts and paid organisers to lobby governments on behalf of the company. By blurring the boundaries between corporation and civil society, the company also deploys notions of community as a defensive manoeuvre to gain positive news stories from launching initiatives to solve problems of its own creation. Airbnb aims to drown out questions about excessive fees, tax avoidance, and the company’s litigious history with stories of interesting hosts and travel experiences. But when Airbnb does real damage to local communities through over-tourism and gentrification, it fights tooth and tail to avoid local regulations and tax collection it deems a threat to its business model. The paper reveals the history of Airbnb’s marketing campaign and its use of a discourse of community as a means of pursuing its corporate goals. 

Dr James Muldoon is a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Exeter, and Head of Digital Research at Autonomy, a progressive UK think tank. His research concerns the relationship between technology, politics and democracy. He is the author of “Building Power to Change the World: the Political Thought of the German Council Movements” (Oxford University Press, 2020).

If you would like to participate in the workshop, please contact Myrto.dagkouli-kyriakoglou@mau.se to obtain the Zoom link.