Airbnb is facing a storm of criticism after several consumers complained of racial discrimination from some of the home-sharing service app’s hosts.
Black travelers have taken to the Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack to chronicle incidents where they were initially denied a rental based on their profile picture or for having an African-American sounding name, but in some cases were granted a rental if they changed their profile picture or name that was racially neutral or more white.
I've never successfully rented an airbnb. Funny tho, my family has been up on vacation rentals since the mid 90s. #Airbnbwhileblack
— Charmless Whore (@xicacha) May 1, 2016
One bachelor's degree, one master's degree, and one doctorate's degree later, and I still can't rent your apartment. SMH#AirbnbWhileBlack
— fayefayefaye (@fayefayefaye) April 30, 2016
Airbnb has responded to the news coverage telling Buzzfeed in a statement:
We recognize that bias and discrimination present significant challenges, and we are taking steps to address them. Profile photos are an important part of our community and are one of the many tools that help hosts and guests connect with one another. We welcome the opportunity to work with anyone that can help us reduce potential discrimination in the Airbnb community.
The accusations lobbed at Airbnb and its host fall in line with a long trend of housing discrimination against African Americans. A study from the Harvard Business School analyzed 6,400 listings in five cities, and found that Airbnb renters with distinctly African-American sounding names such as Tamika, Darnell, or Rasheed were 16 percent less likely to have their request accepted. Applicants with more Anglo-derived names such as Kristen or Brad, with identical profiles to black renters, were more readily approved for their requested stays.
According to the study, African-American guests were also more likely to receive negative reviews — an 8 percent difference — compared to white guests. Those racial gaps disappeared for hosts who had at least one review from a black tenant, researchers found.
The study concludes that discrimination not only persists but may be exacerbated in online communities where transparency around one’s identity is encouraged. That translates not only to people of color being refused service, but can have significant economic effects.
Airbnb hosts who rejected African-American rental applicants seldom found replacements — only 35 percent of the time — costing them potential income, and increasing the potential for a discrimination suit under the Civil Rights Act. Additionally, African-American Airbnb hosts “seek and receive lower prices than white hosts,” the study found, which could further disenfranchise a group that is already less likely to be approved for financial loans, own property, and has historically been discouraged from doing so.
Airbnb has faced similar criticism before regarding the company’s claim to be a way for middle-class households to make extra money. But soaring living expenses, wage disparities, and the fact that successful rentals usually go to hosts who can afford to vacate their home or property for days at a time have priced out many of the households Airbnb would normally target.