In a city where the average rent is nearly $4,000, finding cheap and affordable housing is a long and tiring mission. Cue the invention of Airbnb, a service that places guests in direct contact with hosts by allowing hosts to rent out their spare rooms and empty apartments at an affordable price.
As a user of the website, a host and traveler, this reporter co-signs the convenience of Airbnb. The $2.5 billion company allows homeowners and travelers to connect in an innovated way that users say is safer than Craigslist, and more affordable than hotels. It is a great way for travelers to find housing in their price range and they get to live like a local while hosts make money. But, like any other major business, Airbnb also has its flaws.
Airbnb has been under scrutiny for the discrimination against travelers by hosts. In fact, the issue was so bad that the company had to release a series of emails aimed at preventing hosts from directly and subconsciously discriminating against potential guests based on race, sexual identity, etc.
In 2015, Gregory Selden, a 25-year-old Black man living in Richmond, Va., tweeted that he had been rejected by an Airbnb host because of the color of his skin. Selden told the New Yorker that it could be cheaper to stay at someone’s house, through Airbnb, than to rent a hotel, so he created an Airbnb profile, with a photo and some basic details about himself, and sent an inquiry to a host whose place looked appealing.
But when Selden made the reservation the hosts swiftly responded and claimed the dates were taken. This response prompted Selden to create two fake profiles, “Jessie” and “Todd” as white travelers. Selden requested the same dates for Jessie and Todd and immediately received a response from the hosts who accepted the reservation.
A similar situation occurred when Aina Fadina tried to reserve a place. Her two hosts claimed the dates were unavailable and even said that they had family coming. Fadina asked, “Why is their place still open for bookings?
“I even felt the need to inform the host I was coming for a business conference to make them feel comfortable,” said Fadina.
Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb sent out a letter to hosts and guests titled “Airbnb’s Work to Fight Discrimination and Build Inclusion.”
“Beginning Nov. 1, everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to a stronger, more detailed nondiscrimination policy,” the email stated. “We aren’t just asking you to check a box associated with a long legal document. We’re asking everyone to agree to something we’re calling the Airbnb Community Commitment, which says:
We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.”
This agreement was sent to all of Airbnb’s hosts under the title, “How to Welcome the World.” The statement read, “As part of Airbnb’s effort to fight discrimination and champion belonging, we’ve developed resources to help you understand travelers’ experiences and become more aware of hidden biases. This is just the start, and we hope you’re as determined as we are to make this world a more welcoming place for all.
We’ve partnered with experts, devoted to understanding the science of discrimination, to explore how bias affects the way we treat each other—and what we can do about it. The newest host toolkit will challenge, encourage and equip you to discover biases and take action against discrimination.”
But in present day American, it is just not that easy to “discover biases.” Hosts choose whether to accept or deny any guest they want. These decisions can be based on anything, including gender, race and sexuality. What Airbnb can do is remove photos before a guest is accepted or limit the number of times a host can reject a guest.
Jason Mickle, a host in Harlem who rents out a bedroom in his apartment has a hope for Airbnb. “I am an African-American gay male,” he said. “As a guest going to Florida this past August, my requests to book a space were denied. Now I don’t know why, and I’m not making assumptions, but there is the strong possibility that some people will be rejected for reasons as simple as ethnicity, sexuality, etc.”
He continued, “I think it’s necessary to have a system of checks and balances, especially in this country and in this environment. Now is an apt time for Airbnb to make sure they do their part to ensure all people are allowed to utilize Airbnb and not face any type of discrimination.”