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Airbnb Tourists Transform Harlem

Linda Villarosa | 3/24/2014, 2:41 p.m.
As the weather gets warmer, more and more tourists will call Harlem home—literally. Increasingly, visitors to our neighborhood skip hotels ...
Photo by Keiffer Jordan

As the weather gets warmer, more and more tourists will call Harlem home—literally. Increasingly, visitors to our neighborhood skip hotels and use Airbnb and similar sharing services to find local apartments to stay in uptown.

One thousand Harlem residents hosted 28, 310 Airbnb guests from all over the world, between August 2012 and July 2013, according to company statistics. They contributed $18.1 million in direct spending, making Harlem one of the city’s most popular destinations for the many guests who prefer to stay “off the beaten track.”

Companies like Airbnb, Homeaway, OneFineStay and Cloud 9 have been a boon for all New Yorkers. So-called sharing economy businesses cropped up several years ago in the midst of a perfect storm of opportunity. The internet has made aggregating supply and demand of affordable, temporary digs cheap and easy, serving as an alternative to costly hotel stays.

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Visitors can rent out this apartment in Harlem. Photo from Airbnb website.

It has created a win-win for visitors and hosts alike: Adventurist tourists who have money to spend but not burn enjoy an “authentic experience” while the expanding ranks of New York’s creative class of freelancers, entrepreneurs and artists stay afloat. Sixty-two percent of respondents to the company survey say that hosting has allowed them to afford their homes.

But as sharing services have grown more popular, they have run up against hurdles. Last year New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman cracked down on Airbnb looking for information about thousands of New York-area hosts to ferret out tax cheats raking in dollars under the table.

“If Airbnb wants to be a valuable and lawful economic engine for New York, it should support the state’s efforts to recover millions of dollars in unpaid taxes and stop the proliferation of illegal hotels,” says a spokesman for the attorney general. “Tens of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes could go toward valuable services for New Yorkers across the state.”

Most hosts feel nervous about the added scrutiny, but remain undeterred. “I like showing people my city and my neighborhood,” says one, a freelancer who rents out a room for $75 a night in his large Harlem apartment through Airbnb. He asked to remain anonymous because of the state’s crackdown, but says that the service has helped him survive in an uncertain economy.

“When you stay in a hotel, it’s not the same,” he adds. “You aren’t going to the local market. You don’t see the local people.”

To look at more Airbnb properties available in Harlem, click here.