Zweckentfremdungsverbot
October 27, 2015 12:05 PM   Subscribe

 
Zweckenfremdung has a nice ring to it. I think it's one of those German words that will catch on.
posted by notmtwain at 12:50 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Conflicts, I has them. I am planning a lengthy trip next year in Central Europe for my 40th birthday (thanks, AskMe friends!) and since we have been AirBnb users close enough from day one, I've been scouting options on there for Berlin (among other cities). I hate hate hate that this service allows people who have multiple flats to ruin the concept for folks who just want to make some extra cash. (We are putting up our guest room on there later this year as our own way to earn a little money.)
posted by Kitteh at 12:51 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The source of this is interesting as well, it's a design high school/secondary school in Potsdam (Berlin's neighbor city). The website states they have, basically, no axe to grind.

The real estate market in Berlin has been so undervalued for so long - and still is, to find a 1700sq ft apartment for under 2000euro a month requires no heroic measures (though finding the income to pay for it is less assured.) The debate around Air BnB is one centered on the fact that suddenly the market is starting to play a role where previously it was simply not pertinent.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:48 PM on October 27, 2015


I don't know what it is about Airbnb that makes otherwise reasonable people lose their shit.

12,000 units on Airbnb out of ~2M units total is just not that much. If you're concerned about the supply of rental housing (and you should be!) there are plenty of policy levers you could pull to get *way* more than 12,000 new units built in a major city.

That said, this was a very nice summary and visualisation of the data for Berlin. I have no beef with the post at all, but I suspect some people are going to draw conclusions that aren't really supported by the data.
posted by ripley_ at 1:56 PM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know what it is about Airbnb that makes otherwise reasonable people lose their shit.

Because it, like other forms of the gig economy, functions as a form of societal microarbitrage, extracting loose value and funneling it up to the 1%. And that cost winds up being borne by the rest of us.

Yes, there may only be 12k units being pulled off the market directly. But they aren't being pulled off equally, but primarily in the vital core of Berlin. This has two knock-on effects:

1. Those vital core areas become more expensive to live in, as rents rise to balance against the idea of short term income.
2. As individuals are priced out, they move to other areas, causing rents to increase there as well. Which in turn causes further displacement outwards.

So it's not just that units are taken off the market, but that it can make the market as a whole more expensive.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:12 PM on October 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


NoxAeternum, everything you're describing would also happen if a bunch of people decided to move to Berlin. Which makes sense, given that Airbnb's effect on the housing market is essentially just that it lets some additional people bid on housing.

I'd like to think we can design housing policy to accommodate demand increases regardless of where they come from.
posted by ripley_ at 2:30 PM on October 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


If I can extrapolate broadly from what I've seen in my city, I think a lot of Airbnb's growth has been because tourism spending rebounded from the recession faster than new hotel construction did, driving up hotel rates and making a slightly sketchier sleeping situation on the cheap more appealing. On the other hand, it's also been a handy way to advertise and rent whole-home rentals, which I think are a different product than the "paid couch-surfing" thing they seem to want to be associated with.

I think that in a lot of cities (except places where new construction is hugely expensive or politically difficult, like San Francisco), new hotels will eventually soak up a lot of Airbnb's low-price customers, but the whole home/apartment rentals for groups and/or longer stays will stick around because it's a different sort of product. It'll also probably end up dominated by the larger users with double-digit numbers of properties. So basically I think most of made Airbnb seem like a cool new thing will lose its appeal (cheap!) and it'll end up as mainly VRBO but with the added shittiness of users being able to discriminate against you based on your picture/profile.
posted by ghharr at 2:33 PM on October 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


NoxAeternum, everything you're describing would also happen if a bunch of people decided to move to Berlin. Which makes sense, given that Airbnb's effect on the housing market is essentially just that it lets some additional people bid on housing.

To some degree, but a surge in population wouldn't specifically be isolated to the vital core, especially if it was demographically heterogeneous. (A demographically homogeneous surge is more problematic, as we're seeing in San Francisco.)

But even then, such a surge would at least be a natural part of a demographic shift. In contrast, Airbnb's influence is an artificial distortion of the market, ultimately benefitting primarily the business. As such, there's no reason we should treat the two scenarios as equivalent. So I reject your idea of housing policy that is agnostic to sources of growth, because we as a society should not be in the business of supporting societal microarbitrage.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:52 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, it's also been a handy way to advertise and rent whole-home rentals, which I think are a different product than the "paid couch-surfing" thing they seem to want to be associated with.

The "so that single moms with an extra room can make some extra cash" narrative that AirBnB pushes over and over is exactly the same as the "we help small businesses" bullshit the GOP spews when they are really helping out the big boys like Goldman Sachs.

If AirBnB didn't know they were ruing the rental markets, they wouldn't have to blast out their feel-good story so much.
posted by sideshow at 3:00 PM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


a surge in population wouldn't specifically be isolated to the vital core

It certainly might if preferences for urban living changed, as we've seen in North America over the last few decades.

A demographically homogeneous surge is more problematic, as we're seeing in San Francisco

A "demographically homogeneous surge" has occurred in every city that's ever seen an influx of people from a certain area, industry, or race. It's a pretty normal occurrence and if housing policy can't handle it then we have bad policy.

Airbnb's influence is an artificial distortion of the market

I'm not sure I would describe opening up a market to some additional people as "an artificial distortion of the market". That depends a lot on your beliefs about what a "natural" market looks like.

societal microarbitrage

I am guessing you're referring to the difference in prices between what people are willing to pay for long-term and short-term (i.e. hotels) rental housing, but wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to guess?
posted by ripley_ at 3:23 PM on October 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure I would describe opening up a market to some additional people as "an artificial distortion of the market". That depends a lot on your beliefs about what a "natural" market looks like.

It's artificial in my consideration because it's occurring due to specific actions by a specific actor, as opposed to shifts based on larger socioeconomic trends.

I am guessing you're referring to the difference in prices between what people are willing to pay for long-term and short-term (i.e. hotels) rental housing, but wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to guess?

Considering that's the definition of arbitrage, yes, I'm referring to the exploitation of that price differential. It's much like the issue with the microarbitrage of high speed transactions, just applied to the housing market as opposed to the stock market.

But again, the problem with your argument is that we shouldn't care where growth is from, but just plan for it regardless of the source, whereas my position is that the source matters, and if you have a surge in growth being driven by a single actor whom is receiving all the benefit while leaving the negative effects for society to deal with, then perhaps this is a form of growth that should be actively discouraged.

(This is also why I'm a big fan of penny stock transaction taxes - they would kill microarbitrage there dead while leaving the rest of the market fine.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


if you have a surge in growth being driven by a single actor whom is receiving all the benefit while leaving the negative effects for society to deal with, then perhaps this is a form of growth that should be actively discouraged

I agree! But that's not the case here, plenty of benefit is accruing to the people who use Airbnb. People rent Airbnb units because they're cheaper (often way cheaper) or better than existing hotels.
posted by ripley_ at 3:55 PM on October 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I agree! But that's not the case here, plenty of benefit is accruing to the people who use Airbnb. People rent Airbnb units because they're cheaper (often way cheaper) or better than existing hotels.

And housing prices are going up, people are getting priced out of housing, and the lion's share of the profit goes to Airbnb and the large commercial interests.

But that's okay, because you can get a cheaper room.

This is the same issue that people were discussing in the Amazon thread.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:17 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a nice piece of rhetoric that could just as easily apply to any hotel.

I think we have very different priors and we're not going to agree on much, but what do you think an appropriate policy response would be if I owned land in Berlin and I wanted to build a hotel on it instead of rental apartments?
posted by ripley_ at 5:37 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a nice piece of rhetoric that could just as easily apply to any hotel.

I think we have very different priors and we're not going to agree on much, but what do you think an appropriate policy response would be if I owned land in Berlin and I wanted to build a hotel on it instead of rental apartments?


We already have a number of existing policy tools for that - zoning, licensing, etc. One of the major problems with Airbnb is that they, like many other gig economy businesses, don't think those rules apply to them. As gets pointed out with many of these threads, there's a lot of laws these firms are routinely flaunting - and many times, the person who winds up on the hook isn't the company, but the end users (which is part of the model - risk is socialized, profit is privatized.)

And I don't think the issue is different priors. I think it is, as in the Amazon thread, that you're a consumer in a consumer-centric culture, and as such, you're told that you only need think about the system as it pertains to you. So when people point out the greater ramifications of these choices, the reaction is to want to say that it's not your problem. But it very much is.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:38 PM on October 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


shifts based on larger socioeconomic trends

I think it actually is a shift based on larger socioeconomic trends: namely, information becoming cheaper/more accessible. Decades ago, brokering a deal for a private room you'd never seen in a city you'd never visited (perhaps in a language you don't speak), as well as figuring out transportation, food options, methods of payment, protection against misrepresentation and fraud, etc, would have been prohibitively difficult. You'd need an actual broker, who would need to be paid for their time, making it more cost effective to simply go to a hotel which was already set up for these functions.
posted by alexei at 7:05 PM on October 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


My experience in Berlin was that there's a lot of pressure on the real estate market inside the Ring, and so I can understand people's frustration with Airbnb.

Because it's not just Airbnb that is making it hard to find an apartment in Kreuzberg or Prenzlauerberg or Mitte. I've read articles about super rich people who buy luxury flats in Berlin and using them once a year or so, when they come there to do a concert or something, because Berlin is relatively cheap and they think it's cool to have a place there. And on the less extravagantly wealthy side, there are still a lot people are moving to Berlin partly because it's so cool and partly because it's incredibly cheap for a European capital. So people coming from Amsterdam or Paris are willing to pay prices for housing that are high for Berlin but low for anywhere else, and native Berliners are getting pushed out of the market more and more often.

Also, Berlin isn't a rich city. Last time I checked, they had a 13% unemployment rate (compared the rest of Germany which had a 6% unemployment rate). There are still gaps in the rows of houses all over the city, because things got damaged during the war and got torn down but never rebuilt. And tourism brings in a lot of money (in 2014, Berlin had 28 million overnight stays and 11.8 distinct visitors in a city of 3.5 million). That's a good thing, but I can also understand why people in Berlin want some control the way tourism affects their city. And Airbnb just ducks all of the rules and therefore makes it really hard to regulate, and I can see why that is frustrating to people.
posted by colfax at 3:37 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


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