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Northeastern study says violent crime increases when Airbnb units open up in Boston neighborhoods

Airbnb usage in Boston areas in 2018

Airbnb usage across Boston in 2018, from the study.

Two researchers at Northeastern University compared Airbnb data and crime stats for Boston neighborhoods and found that an increase in Airbnb units is followed a year or so later by an increase in violent crime.

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.

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Comments

I thought violent crime has been on decline since 2007.

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since the early 90s. Property crime, too.

Gun crime including murder spiked during the Trump Plague and associated economic crash, from which we're still recovering. But it remains a fraction of what it was 30 years ago.

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So how does Airbnb enter the picture? Are they claiming crime declined less when Airbnb opened up?

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I would assume their response is that correlation does not infer causation. Pay someone to research and you can come up with many interesting correlations which have nothing to do with each other.

At least these academics have jobs. Unfortunately kids are paying their salaries by borrowing huge sums of money and living with a lifetime of debt to provide them the time and resources to offer inanities to the public discourse.

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When two things are correlated, they may be related via an intermediary variable, they may result from the same root cause, one may cause the other, or it might be coincidental.

One study correlated lung cancer with coffee drinking.
Repeated robust studies correlated lung cancer with smoking.

Only when the first study was stratified by smoking/nonsmoking was it apparent that coffee drinking and smoking were related behaviors, and it was smoking that caused the lung cancer, as it was absent from the smaller fraction of coffee drinkers who did not smoke. We call that a confounder.

In this case, people renting on air b&b may be a marker for neighborhood instability. It could also be that similar factors result in people renting their properties and crime increasing, such as job insecurity or relocation or income instability. Maybe once people cease living in an area full time, nobody pays attention to what is going on on a day to day basis. People don't report things, or, maybe, nobody is around to bother. Higher number of people wandering with suitcases may be easy robbery targets, etc.

Number of reasons that it could be related without being directly causal.

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So how does Airbnb enter the picture?

Perhaps you missed the part where there is a whole peer-reviewed journal article that answers that very question linked to this very post?

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Are you saying that the history doesn't know an example of "peer-reviewed" studies arriving at the diametrically-opposite conclusions?

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I may make you feel but I can't make you think.

All I said was read the study.

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i haven’t read the study, but it’s likely that they are referring to a year over year increase in violent crime for the specific neighborhood - which of course does not have to be tethered to a citywide or nationwide movement in either direction.

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Is good and there are peer reviewed articles to prove it, amirite?

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Airbnb's present a huge problem. They're not known for their security, so given that fact, the increase in violent crime in areas that have Airbnb's is not the least big surprising.

Airbnb's are cheaper than regular hotels, and the proprietors of Airbnb's play to people's desires for cheaper rooms when they go on vacation or whatever, or cheaper rental housing, and take full advantage of that, which is unfortunate.

I'll also add this: In the event that I ever go on vacation somewhere, I'd rather dig deeper into my pocketbook and spend more to stay in a more secure place.

I'll also add that if one looks further on the internet, there are plenty of horror stories of people who opt to stay in these Airbnb's on vacation being physically assaulted, having the rooms where they're staying broken into and having stuff stolen. They're not very secure places, period.

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Like a hotel on Boston Common?

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Do you hate the Common?

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Good to see Northeastern University has a firm grasp of the obvious. Any mention of the transient nature of students in a neighborhood?

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Students are not transient week by week and day by day. Students have a vested interest in their neighborhoods for as long as they live there, which can typically be anywhere from one to four years or more.

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Students do not attend neighborhood meetings, even those where we discuss obnoxious student behavior.

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Our area has a lot of students engaging in all sorts of neighborhood and civic issues, many starting as interns. Also? Grad students are older and around longer and are frequent contributors to local volunteer efforts when they have the occasion to do so.

Perhaps they don't go where the self-appointed guardians of the neighborhood make it clear they are not welcome and will be used as punching bags? Gee. Imagine that.

Yeah the same level of "vested interest" as a rental car driver. Get real

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I’d rather live near college students than the pathetic old “I got mine so screw everyone else and also change scares me” NIMBY crowd in West Roxbury or Roslindale.

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If you lived in Allston, you’d be on this website constantly griping about students.

But since you hate Roslindale, preferring your trust fund paradise, I’m happy.

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So it must be legit.
Peer reviewed things are always accurate

I guess Airbnb bring higher crime rates to neighborhoods.

Is it accurate? If not, what’s wrong with it?

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They did a study and came up with a connection with Airbnb and a higher crime rate, it says so right in the peer reviewed study.

I bet you could do a study and find a correlation between green houses and education level, more college graduates tend to live in green houses . We just need it peer reviewed and have Benjamin Moore pay for the study.

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“I don’t like it, so I am going to insinuate that it’s fake news.”

It’s this sort of ignorance that is also being applied to the anti-Covid vax sentiment and getting people killed. And that some people are so proud of this ignorance…

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And the study , nothing else.

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When I worked in medical research, we knew that certain journals had higher standards for data and statistical integrity. I looked into PLoS ONE and it requires the author to pay to be published. Its stated goal is to allow people to publish as quickly as possible and its acceptance rate is 69% - extremely high. It makes sense to publish pilot data like this to see what response there is, so I don't think the authors mean to be dishonest.

It does seem to have some reasonably strict guidelines and it requires that the data used for the paper be publicly available which is good.The authors themselves have written concluded that more data is needed, another sign that this is a pilot study.

It would be dishonest to treat a study like this as if it's conclusive, but reasonable to get the data out there.

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/submit-now

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They did a study and came up with a connection

I bet you could do a study and find a correlation

Just stop. It's really painful to watch.

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Your knowledge and experience with peer review, review processes, and anything to do with actually reading a journal or statistics or study design.

A bunch of big fat zeros is sufficient.

Pretty obvious that you are attacking a Straw Paper here, and something fake you made up while sitting on the toilet.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

Without even breaking a sweat, I'll bet any of you could come up with a dozen possible explanations for the correlation between increased airBnB listings and increased crime, that don't involve a causal link.

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Well said

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They also discovered that shark attacks...er "encounters"... only happen during the months with increased levels ice cream sales.

Time to defund Mr. Frosty. It's for your own good.

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For those of us who are city dwellers, it seems like a good idea to study the Airbnb impact in a dispassionate way.

I clicked on the link to the study itself, read the first two paragraph and skimmed through the rest as I don't feel like spending two hours reading the whole thing or diving into the data. A couple of things stood out. The authors use the term "blackshort-term rentals" repeatedly. I'd never heard this expression and I would certainly avoid it if I was writing an academic paper in the US. There are other funny sentences, such as "There are other 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 [22–26]."

It's not all bad and there are also some interesting ideas and quotations like this; "For example, Boivin and Felson (2018) found that urban neighborhoods with more visitors feature elevated rates of crime committed by visitors but no increase in crimes committed by locals [14]"

My own grammar and writing kinda suck and I usually avoid criticizing other people's mistake in that area, but if I was writing an academic paper I truly cared about, I'd enlist a couple of friends with good editing skills to review it before it gets publicly released.

This study could be quite useful but it feels a little weird and questionable.

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It’s worth noting that you quote:

Boivin and Felson (2018) found that urban neighborhoods with more visitors feature elevated rates of crime committed by visitors but no increase in crimes committed by locals.

…but the authors conclude:

The specific findings suggest that the impacts of short-term rentals on crime are not a consequence of attracting tourists themselves. Instead, the results point to the possibility that the large-scale conversion of housing units into short-term rentals undermines a neighborhood’s social organization, and in turn its natural ability of a neighborhood to counteract and discourage crime, specifically violent crime.

People who see a correlation between AirBnB and crime assume it’s the renters who are bringing the crime. We have read at least one story here of locals renting a Charlestown AirBnB as a party house and ending up with a murder, so it seems like a logical hypothesis that this is why crime follows AirBnB. Yet the authors’ research suggests otherwise and I think that—regardless of whether or not other studies can support this claim—is an interesting idea and worth considering.

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What matters is the specific violent crimes which took place in the neighborhoods as defined in the study. These numbers are in the dozens, not thousands, and the "researchers" easily could have investigated them and offered more than a correlation. As noted, their writing is sloppy. The conclusions are more questions than answers and it is not really a quality piece or work.

It seriously appears they had to offer a product on a deadline rather than true research. I'm still happy that Adam linked to it so when the Wu administration seeks to ban all Air BnB stays in Boston and cites "studies" on how they lead to ill effects such as increased violent crime, we will all know what a joke her "evidence" actually is.

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Is this your field of study?

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I research fresh water horseshoe crabs and African swallows. Unfortunately these topics never arise on UHub.

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Figured you'd be more of a threatened chelonian kind of person.

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I've always been under the impression that the academic expansion of human knowledge is a process in which people conduct research and publish what they find so others can examine their methods and analysis, comment on it, and build upon it with further research, rather than a work-product system in which every study must be complete with iron-clad and novel conclusions in order to count as "a quality piece or work".

But hey, what do I know? I could be wrong.

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are this paper and discussion of it. All other hits are spurious, on both Google and DuckDuckGo. Very weird.

The paper contains both "blackshort-term" and "black short-term", differing in the presence of a space. It also speaks frequently of "Airbnb blacklistings", which from context I infer to be the same thing as what I would call "Airbnb listings".

I wonder if the word "black" is somehow inserted here via a technical mistake in an editor or part of the publishing process.

EDIT: Further evidence for this theory:

The specific findings suggest that blackthe impacts of short-term rentals on crime are not a consequence of attracting tourists themselves.

This has to be the result of a tool mishap. Maybe this is occurring everywhere some text was bolded, something like that.

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Someone did a global find/replace clumsily.

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Is the tuition NEU is charging their students

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That's why I dress like sh-t......never been robbed.

Been doing this for 14yrs in Boston.
People who dre$$ nice draw flies. College kids are the first to do this.

Also:
Today people are staring at their smartphones
so they're not aware of the surrounding environment.

Partying "on the town" at night is asking for it too.

The upshot is that you can admit that the crime in Boston has been increasing from 2008 to 2018, but only if you blame Airbnb for it.

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Crime has also been decreasing in Boston. Weird how two seemingly contradictory statements can be true depending on how you are looking at the data.

Crime in Boston, or crime in Boston neighborhoods with an increasing number of Airbnb locations are two different views of the same data.

Meanwhile, here in my suburban neighborhood, the murder rate has plummeted since last year's incalculable increase in homicides. Yes, 0 to 1, to 0.

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If randos were going in and out of my building day by day, it would be difficult to know who was supposed to be in the building and who was not. Of course there are guests and partners who come through, but there have been a few suspicious people looking through packages from time to time with shifty glances towards me when I check my mail or walk through the lobby. They usually leave immediately, sans package, never to be seen again.

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Air bnb short term rentals to get a name for scams. They usually prey on the elderly with a story involving taxes or expenses on sweepstakes winnings. They ask for overnight mail with cash in it.
Sounds foolish, right?

https://www.wcvb.com/article/woman-86-defrauded-out-of-at-least-dollar42...

I was involved with one where they wanted the money sent to a drop in Connecticut. The victim was literally stopped with the cash in their pocket headed out to the Post Office. A close call.

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One of our cards sent an alert about a change of address after a "reported stolen" request from an unknown not-us person.

Once we reported that we did not change our address to some mail drop house in Long Island and squared away the attempted identity theft game, I took the address and figured out where it was, looked at street view, and then found listings on a couple of platforms for short term rental of the house (I didn't find it on airbnb)

I then reported to those listing agencies that someone was using the address for a fraud location. It may not have been the person renting it week to week - just someone in the neighborhood knowing it was variously occupied having things sent there - like new credit cards! Their service folks said that they would notify the owner.

Someone needs to teach these researchers how to map. I don't know what projection this is, but it's clearly inappropriate. State Plane exists for a reason!

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