SEATTLE – There was a time when allowing complete strangers into your home to spend the night was a crazy idea, but for the last ten years, Airbnb has been growing. Along with a new idea comes old problems: Airbnb has faced racial discrimination claims and lawsuits.
This all started years ago after public outcry and social media backlash. Some black people were sharing their experiences while using Airbnb. They say they were either met with racial slurs, having their reservations cancelled for no reason, or not being able to book a property.
A 2016 Harvard University study showed people with “African American sounding names” were 16 percent less likely to get approved to book a place on Airbnb. Those issues still continue today, which is why Airbnb and the NAACP is working to address the problem.
If you’re heading out of town this summer, you can rent out your home, just like one owned by Airbnb Host Lennox Matsinde.
“I have a day job. I’m a software engineer but Airbnb provided me a vehicle that would add an additional stream of income,” said Matsinde.
Lennox has two listings on the site to bring in extra cash. Seems fool proof, right?
“We’ve had discrimination issues on the platform,” said Airbnb Director of National Partnerships Janaye Ingram.
Janaye Ingram joined Airbnb two years ago, around the same time Airbnb partnered with the National NAACP. In 2016, #AirbnbWhileBlack was trending when some black people voiced discrimination claims while using the platform and that sparked a boycott.
“You can’t stop a problem by moving away from it. You have to address it head on. I encourage people to join our platform and be part of our community,” said Ingram.
And over the last three years, Airbnb is trying to tackle discrimination on its platform. It began by hiding pictures from guest profiles before booking so hosts couldn’t see what the person looked like until after they accepted the reservation request.
“We created an open doors policy which allowed for people to report any feeling that they are being discriminated against,” said Ingram.
But discrimination still happens. In a video is from this past weekend, a group of black men say their Asian New York City Airbnb host called them racial slurs and forced them to leave. Airbnb used new guidelines called a “Community Commitment” to ban the host.
“It’s our guiding principle that everyone has to sign on to in order to even use our platform. That is what allowed us to remove the host in this past weekend’s incident,” said Ingram.
The new local partnership between Airbnb and NAACP Seattle King County is not just about discrimination, but using the platform to make money as a host, especially in Seattle’s historically black neighborhoods like the Central District or Columbia City.
“With the large increase of gentrification, our goal is to increase the income for communities of color, black communities,” said NAACP Seattle Unit President Sadiqa Sakin.
So those families can stay in their homes and communities.
“In a pricey Seattle real estate market, being a single person in a three-bedroom house I had a couple extra rooms so it would make sense that I would generate income from those rooms,” said Matsinde.
Airbnb has vowed to help black business owners grow their businesses as well. And if you become a host in Seattle, the local NAACP Chapter gets a kickback from Airbnb of about 20 percent of the booking price.
Now if you’re a host, you can still pick and choose who you rent your property to, but you can’t discriminate against someone because of race, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.
If you want to learn more about becoming an Airbnb host, there’s a free event open to the public Wednesday night from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Northwest African American Museum, and another event Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.