A proliferation of Airbnbs, or similar short-term rentals, in a neighborhood contributes to higher rates of crime in the area, according to a new study by two Northeastern researchers.

The relationship is likely because the highly transient housing “pokes holes in the social fabric of the neighborhood,” says Dan O’Brien, associate professor of public policy and urban affairs who, with his colleague Babak Heydari, associate professor of engineering, recently published a comprehensive study of Airbnb listings and crime rates in neighborhoods throughout Boston.

They found that it was the proportion of buildings with at least one home-sharing listing—and not the volume of tourists cycling through such units—that had the greatest (indeed, only) measurable effect on crime in the neighborhood. Their research was published Wednesday in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.

“What seems to be the problem is that Airbnb is taking households off the social network of the neighborhood and eroding its natural capacity to manage crime,” says O’Brien, who also studies criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern.

The researchers hope their study can help guide local and regional policy decisions about short-term rental regulations.

O’Brien and Heydari compiled 911-call data and Airbnb listings and reviews from 2011 to 2018, a period of rising concern about crime and during which listings on the online home-sharing platform more than doubled in Boston. They found that certain violent crimes, including fights, robberies, and reports of someone wielding a knife, tended to increase in a neighborhood a year or more after the number of Airbnbs increased.

The lag, Heydari says, is evidence that it’s not the immediate presence of rowdy tourists or criminals taking advantage of newcomers that’s driving an increase in crime. Such effects would be seen in the same year that listings increased, not afterward.

“What we’re seeing is evidence of a slower process, one that becomes significant over the years,” he says. “It’s another support that changing the social fabric of the neighborhood is what’s undergirding these results.”


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