I have a piece up at The Daily Beast looking at the reprecussions of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's recent subpoena requiring that Airbnb, the wildly popular short-term rental site, hand over a spreadsheet listing all its hosts statewide, their addresses, the dates and durations of their bookings, and the revenue these bookings have generated.
Here's how it opens:
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, newcomers to New York City found an abundance of spare bedrooms, living room couches, and kitchen cots available for rent. "Boarding out," as it was once called, also provided a vital income stream for poor families in possession of spare rooms, couches, and cots. By 1912, according to one survey, nearly half of Gotham's black households had boarders, many of them migrants from the South. An even higher percentage of Russian Jewish households had boarders; my great-grandparents routinely put up men and women fresh off the boat for short-term stays in their Lower East Side tenement.
“Huddled masses yearning to breathe free” isn't the first phrase that comes to mind when describing tourists in 21st century New York City booking stays through Airbnb, the wildly popular website connecting residents wanting to pick up some extra cash with out-of-towners looking for cheap alternatives to a traditional hotel. Although the terms and conditions have changed, the commercial impulse is much the same. Take a twenty-something couple named Lauren and Rob, who asked that I not reveal their last names because of the legal issues surrounding Airbnb. They moved to the Big Apple to make it in showbiz. Struggling to make ends meet, they now cover about half the cost of their $2,250-a-month Manhattan apartment by renting out their living room couch for $65 a night.
Back in August, Naomi Brockwell and I looked at Airbnb and its enemies for Reason TV: