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What Airbnb hosts can do about the housing crisis facing women

by News Desk

Accommodation host turned entrepreneur Jen Clark has launched a new platform for short-term holiday stays that aims to bring compassion and social responsibility to the market. She explains the role of accommodation hosts in the housing crisis, and some of the options available for them to help.

We all need holidays. Especially after the exhausting years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But right now, Australia is experiencing a housing crisis that coincides with an oversaturated private holiday accommodation market. 

Women are disproportionately disadvantaged by this. 

A 2020 report by Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) and Social Ventures Australia found that the number of older women at risk of homelessness in Australia was a staggering 405,000.

Many short-term accommodation hosts argue that the federal and state governments should step up and fund affordable housing developments to remediate the shortfall. While that would certainly help, I believe the hosting community also has a significant role to play.

As a former accommodation host, I don’t believe the privilege of owning secondary – sometimes multiple – properties for financial gain and maintaining a strong sense of social responsibility are mutually exclusive. Far from it, in fact. 

American actor Elizabeth Taylor once said ‘If not to make the world better, what is money for?’. I couldn’t agree more. I believe those of us who have this privilege can – and should – contribute to addressing the housing supply and affordability crisis.

Before we look at possible solutions, let’s explore why this housing crisis is disproportionately impacting women. 

To start with, the gender pay gap is still very real and pervasive. With women earning often significantly less than their male counterparts for equal work, saving for a home deposit takes them longer. Rising rents further compound the problem. 

Further, single-parent households are more likely to be headed by women, and such women may only be able to work part-time around child-raising duties. 

Then there’s the ongoing scourge of Australian society – domestic and family violence. Women who are escaping domestic violence and abuse often have little to no resources at their disposal. They’re often forced to choose between returning to volatile, life-threatening home situations or homelessness.

Last but not least are the realities of death and divorce. 

A 2013 Australian study on financial literacy and retirement planning found that being a woman made a person more likely to be financially illiterate, therefore more vulnerable to poor financial decision making in the wake of a divorce or the death of a spouse. 

And this assumes that they have finances to make decisions about. AMP.NATSEM’s 2016 report, Divorce: For Richer, For Poorer, found that the average divorced woman has assets valued at 90 per cent less than her married equivalent. 

Combine all of these factors with some of the key reasons we have a widespread oversupply of independently-run short-term accommodation right now, including rampant misinformation about the realistic profitability of such properties, inconsistent, if not completely absent legal regulations, a resurgence in the popularity of commercial accommodation providers (hotels, serviced apartments and caravan parks) and an increase in our collective sense of entitlement – in large part fuelled by Covid – and you have a perfect storm.

So, solutions. How can independent accommodation providers help remedy the situation? 

First, we need to acknowledge the role of such providers in the solution. Most accommodation hosts are women. From my experience, many such women differ to the stereotypical multi-property owning, ‘set & forget’ crowd who prioritise profiteering over all else. Rather, they are ultra conscientious, hardworking and deeply hospitable folk looking for a modest yet consistent income. As it is also women who are most at risk here, we need to approach this empathically and with compassion. 

Should there be more regulation of this market? Possibly. Imposing limits on the number of nights short-term stays can be legally let out is one idea, but I believe those determined enough will work to circumvent this. 

Caps on the number of properties available for lease might be a better way of salvaging the soul of popular tourist locations, while also sifting out the disingenuous operators. 

Introducing baseline financial levies for short-term accommodation operators that are pumped back into building up local community businesses and infrastructure, I believe, may also be a viable option.

My greatest ambition however, as the founder of a new and emerging accommodation booking platform, Hosting With Heart, is to help solve this problem by rewarding and encouraging holistic hosting. 

Hosting With Heart’s core ethos is based on five key pillars: quality, creativity, sustainability, accessibility and social responsibility. 

By social responsibility, I mean caring for and contributing to the wellbeing of our diverse community members, especially women, when the need arises. 

This might mean offering longer, more affordable stays for women who are in crisis or otherwise struggling to find housing or donating a percentage of profits to local housing initiatives. 

I’m not suggesting that we behave like charities, just that we become more habitually charitable and recognise the enormously positive social impact our hosting can have. 

And when values-aligned guests feel compelled to stay with these hosts, the ripple effect continues. Doesn’t this seem like a much better way to holiday? 

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