BUSINESS

As L.A. weighs regulation, Airbnb touts its economic impact in city

@airbnb says it has just under 4,500 "hosts" in Los Angeles, earning $43 million from May 2013 through April

As Los Angeles City Council members launch a push for tougher regulations on short-term rental housing, the industry’s biggest player has begun touting its impact on the city.

Airbnb, a San Francisco firm that helps people rent space in their homes like hotels, on Thursday is releasing a study tallying its footprint in L.A.

The tech firm -- which typically keeps its data close to its vest -- says that it has just under 4,500 “hosts” in the city of Los Angeles and that they earned a combined $43.1 million through the service from May 2013 through April 2014.

After tracking spending by guests and hosts and projecting the effect that money has filtering through the region's economy, Airbnb estimates a total economic impact of $312 million, enough to support about 2,600 local jobs.

“Home sharing helps Angelenos stay in their homes, pursue creative careers and share the city they love with visitors from around the world,” David Owen, the company’s regional head of public policy, said in a statement. “Nearly three-quarters of all Airbnb hosts use the money they earn to stay in their homes and about 30% of hosts say hosting helped them to start a new business.”

The study, conducted by a San Francisco economic consulting firm using Airbnb’s internal data and user surveys, is one of about a dozen the firm has issued in cities from the Bay Area to Berlin over the last few years as it bumps up against local governments trying to figure out how to regulate a fast-growing industry.

L.A. Councilmen Mike Bonin and Herb Wesson on Tuesday filed a motion asking city officials to study short-term rental regulations elsewhere and recommend new policies here. Of particular concern, Bonin said, is the prospect of full-time Airbnb operators buying units or even whole buildings, creating "de facto hotels" that shrink the city’s already tight supply of housing.

Airbnb’s study gave no numbers on full-time operators in L.A., but a company spokeswoman said the "vast majority" of its hosts here are full-time residents renting out their place for extra cash.

The average host here rents his or her home 59 nights a year, earning just under $8,000, and nearly half of the hosts said they use the proceeds to pay their rent or mortgage. More than 4 in 10 said they work in the arts and entertainment industries, and just over half are self-employed.

As for Airbnb’s effect on the broader housing market, its 4,490 hosts are a drop in the bucket in a city of more than 1.3 million homes. But the company’s footprint is heavier in some neighborhoods than others.

Airbnb did not disclose comprehensive data on where its hosts are located. But a map included in the report -- which the company is not yet making publicly available -- shows the heaviest concentration of visitors are in Hollywood, Venice and Mid-Wilshire, and the fewest properties are available south of downtown and in the northern and western parts of the San Fernando Valley.

The report studied only the city of Los Angeles, with no data on other local short-term-rental hot spots such as Santa Monica, the South Bay and Pasadena.

As for the report's timing, Airbnb said it has been in the works for months and was not triggered by Bonin and Wesson's proposal. The company this week called the measure “a sensible step toward developing fair, progressive policies.”

Keep an eye on housing and real estate in Southern California. Follow me on Twitter at @bytimlogan

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