The Boston City Council today approved looking into how to regulate rental services like Airbnb from laying waste to neighborhoods and harming local hotels and workers while also protecting poor homeowners who increasingly rely on the services to make ends meet and stay in the city.
At its regular meeting today, councilors took different positions of the impacts of the rental services.
In East Boston, Charlestown and the North End, City Councilor Sal LaMattina said, investors are buying up units right and left and turning them into permanent "virtual hotel rooms," locking out poor and middle-class residents.
He said there are now 270 units in his district listed on Airbnb, charging between $150 and $270 a night. "How can working families afford that?" he asked, adding that the transient nature of Airbnb rental units helps breakdown the connections between neighbors that make neighborhoods work.
And the online services has an unfair advantage over local hotels, he said. "You don't have to get an inspection, not from ISD, not from the Fire Department, because there are no regulations in place."
In Hyde Park, Roslindale and Mattapan, Councilor Tim McCarthy said, residents with sheds and detached garages are gutting them and turning them into Airbnb rentals, leading to residents wondering about the strange people now walking around their neighborhoods.
But in Roxbury and South Boston, poor homeowners and the elderly with rapidly rising property taxes are increasingly relying on Airbnb and its competitors to stay in Boston, councilors Tito Jackson (Roxbury) and Bill Linehan (South Boston) said.
Jackson said that had Airbnb been around during the 2008 recession, fewer people in areas such as Dorchester and Roxbury might have lost their homes to foreclosure, because the Airbnb income might have been enough to tide them over.
Linehan said some of his senior constituents have come to rely on Airbnb renters as a way of staving off the isolation they might otherwise feel as their families move out.
Jackson said Boston should do everything it can to encourage the young tech-savvy types who are inventing the future - and he noted that Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk went to Boston Latin Academy.
"We should proceed with utter caution," he said.