The Meat and Potatoes of Life
Airbnb: An unwitting player in military housing crisis
Special to Stars and Stripes March 3, 2023
“The eggs had better be hot,” I grumbled to myself as I reluctantly walked out into the cold rain to attend a Rotary breakfast meeting on a recent morning. I’d joined the group last year, thinking it would be a good idea to volunteer for a local service organization to better connect with our local community. But on meeting days, when my alarm blasts o-dark-thirty, I always regret my decision.
A few minutes later, I was in the breakfast line with my fellow club members, my sense of regret having passed as it always does. After the Pledge of Allegiance and a rousing rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain” (it’s Rotary tradition to sing from the songbook before each meeting), our speaker was introduced.
I was more concerned with the two slices of perfectly-cooked bacon on my plate than listening to what our new Rhode Island congressional representative had to say, so I adopted a fake listening face — all mothers master this — and continued munching.
“… school enrollment is down, primarily because we’re losing our military families …” Representative Whatshisname said.
“Did he say ‘military families’?” I thought after swallowing a forkful of scrambled eggs. As a military spouse, I’d developed an understandable habit of not showing any interest in local politics at each duty station. Why bother when you have to move anyway? However, my Navy husband has been retired for five years now, so I no longer have a valid excuse.
“Mr. Finkelman,” I asked, hoping I’d gotten his name right, “can you please elaborate on what you said about military families?” He explained that the increase in Airbnb properties has resulted in fewer military families renting locally, fewer military children in our local schools and less money being given by the state to our school system.
Apparently, Airbnb and other short-term rental (STR) platforms are causing all kinds of fuss across the U.S. For the past few years, property owners have been converting more and more long-term rentals to lucrative STRs, inviting criticism that they are significantly contributing to the already historic long-term housing shortage. In New York City, for example, there are more Airbnb listings than apartments to rent, and it’s costing renters millions in raised housing costs.
As the industry leader, Airbnb has also been blamed for ruining the tranquility of peaceful neighborhoods by catering to unsupervised party animals who pay STR cash and dash, leaving empty Solo Cups in their wakes. In response, municipalities are passing strict regulations on STRs, which angers property owners who rely on Airbnb income.
What’s it all mean to military families, whose BAH still lags behind skyrocketing rental costs despite the DoD passing a 12.1 percent increase in 2023? Without getting into a complicated analysis of supply and demand which I haven’t done since 11th grade Economics class, there are clear negative impacts to military families.
Firstly, military families still struggle to find affordable housing on the economy due to the rental market shortage and the highest interest rates in years. Military housing is also in short supply, resulting in long waiting lists for those willing to put up with often substandard quarters in less than desirable school districts. Facing significant out-of-pocket costs, military families have been forced to consider alternative housing, to include hotels, mobile homes, camping and STRs.
Secondly and ironically, the trend toward municipalities restricting STRs puts military families in a tighter bind by further limiting their rental housing options.
Lastly and also ironically, military families who bought properties at higher interest rates believing that they could rent them through Airbnb to recoup mortgage costs when they PCS may now be restricted by their municipalities to long-term rentals only. These military property owners may need to hike their rental rates up to cover costs, contributing more to the affordable housing crisis for their fellow military comrades.
Another twist in an already tangled knot that looks suspiciously familiar to the loopy Airbnb logo is recent research indicating that STRs positively impact communities’ long-term economic growth. But this begs the age-old “which came first the chicken or the egg” question, which I’m not willing to answer because I’m too busy eating my bacon and eggs.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: email@example.com