“Unbridled capitalism is the dung of the devil.” In Bolivia, at the beginning of the month, Pope Francis denounced the market economy. This was a pontifical punchline that Americans obviously haven’t spent much time considering.
On Sept. 26, the city of Philadelphia will welcome the Catholic leader for a single weekend. A million and a half people are expected to visit the city (which will double the normal population) to see the pope, who is invited to the World Meeting of Families, and who will visit several places of worship and a prison.
Needless to say, this influx of visitors needs a place to stay. The city’s 11,000 hotel rooms are already full. The remaining solution: private rentals, like those on Airbnb, the sector’s big leader.
One Big Hotel
It’s a godsend for all of Philly's residents, especially now that the city has officially legalized this kind of service, which, although illegal up until now, has been available for several years.
As a result, the whole city is turning into one big hotel: Apartment offers are pouring in, and building owners aren’t especially pleased that their renters are earning money without their consent.
Chuck Holmer, building manager, explains to the local press that he keeps an eye out:
“I find residents trying to rent on Airbnb, and I also find people from other buildings nearby, and I report them to the management at those buildings.”
The paranoia of building owners can be explained by the sudden rise in prices advertised on the site.
Normally, a night in Philadelphia goes for around 100 euros. Here is an example with several Center City prices for Aug. 26, 2015, for one person.
When you look at the same map for the date of the Pope’s arrival, Sept. 26, the numbers are enlightening: One night in Center City can cost 10 times more than usual.
Since Airbnb is the last resort for finding a place to stay during the event, the users of the site hope to earn a little extra easy money. In Philadelphia, the average price for a night is rising to 700 euros for that date.
Adding Nuance to the Phenomenon
Steve, 43, lives in the south of the city, in Girard Estates, in a house he owns.
A regular user of the site, he is renting a room for 947 euros the day of the arrival of the pope (instead of the normal 84 euros). As he explains to Rue89, he is taking advantage of the very specific nature of the event:
“We’re expecting a million and a half people in the city, and the hotels are all full. I am basing things quite simply on the law of supply and demand. The more people are interested, the more prices go up. The hotels are doing well, why not us?”
This is a pragmatism adopted by many users of Airbnb in the city, as the statements of a casual renter interviewed by The Telegraph show:
“I created the account for the Pope’s visit. It’s easy money.”
Steve explains that he is open to negotiation:
“If people reserve in advance and come talk to me personally, I always lower my prices. The posted price is just a starting point for me. I rented one of my rooms for 55 euros for the event for people who reserved a long time in advance and who negotiated.
My response to critics of the price is simple: Reserve early, come talk about it, and there won’t be any problems in agreeing on a price!"
Let us re-assure Pope Francis that “unbridled capitalism” can still reveal mercy for the underprivileged.