Their study, which uses data from Boston census tracts – so areas smaller than traditional Boston neighborhoods – only goes through 2018. That might make the study more of a historical review than a predictive model, at least for Boston, since the City Council and then Mayor Walsh approved a new ordinance that year that drastically limits the potential number of short-term rentals in Boston.
Airbnb, of course, calls the study complete trash, says the methodology is all wrong and you can’t extrapolate across the US from data just from Boston, and besides, crime is rising everywhere and you can’t blame that on Airbnb.
In their study, Dan O’Brien, associate professor of public policy and urban affairs and Babak Heydari, associate professor of engineering, said their findings showed an increase in violent crime in particular, not of other types of crime, and that the increase was not due to Boston attracting fighty tourists looking for a bout with the locals – or that locals are enjoying preying on tourists.
We find evidence that increases in Airbnb listings – but not reviews – led to more violence in neighborhoods in later years. This result supports the notion that the prevalence of Airbnb listings erodes the natural ability of a neighborhood to prevent crime, but does not support the interpretation that elevated numbers of tourists bring crime with them.
Instead of the Airbnb visitors bringing or attracting crime themselves, the researchers posit:
[N]eighborhoods whose residents know and trust each other and share common values are more able to establish and enforce social norms. In turn, they tend to have lower levels of crime. One of the main factors that inhibits a strong social organization is residential instability, because it is hard to develop relationships and establish norms if a sizable proportion of the population is transient. It would stand to reason, then, that if a sufficient number of units throughout a community have been converted to short-term rentals – the most transient form of occupancy possible – it can undermine the social organization and its ability to discourage and prevent crime. A strong social organization is also associated with and able to support various dynamics and processes subsumed under the term ‘social capital,’ including trust, reciprocity, and social cooperation. Further, researchers focusing more on this latter set of terminologies has repeatedly found that numerous manifestations of social capital are associated with lower incidence of crime. Moreover, previous theoretical work have demonstrated an strong impact of community structure (measured by network modularity) on population level attributes such as cooperation, fairness and stability.