Airbnb as a Racial Gentrification Tool?

A new study by the Airbnb activist project, Inside Airbnb was released today, and is being made exclusively available, on the Brooklyn Deep web-site. The study claims that it has data which shows that Airbnb acts as a racial gentrification tool in New York City’s predominantly Black neighborhoods.

“Across all 72 predominantly Black New York City neighborhoods, Airbnb hosts are 5 times more likely to be white” writes Murray Cox, the author of the report, and the founder of the Inside Airbnb project. The Airbnb demographics in those neighborhoods were, according to the study, 74% white, while the white resident population was only 13.9%.

Critics of Airbnb have claimed that their hosts are taking rentable apartments and rooms off the rental market and impacting affordable housing, while Airbnb contends that their service “helps New Yorkers make ends meet”.

White hosts in Black neighborhoods  earned $159.7 million, the report estimates, while only $48.3 million went to Black hosts. This is a 530% disparity based on the small white population in those neighborhoods, which include Stuyvesant Heights, Crown Heights North, Bedford, Bushwick South, Hamilton Heights and Central Harlem.

Facial recognition software was used to determine hosts’ race using their Airbnb profile photographs, a technique described as inaccurate by Airbnb. Cox responds by saying the same methods were used by Harvard Business School (HBS) researchers studying host and guest discrimination on Airbnb. The HBS studies were widely used as evidence for racial discrimination on Airbnb after social media movement #AirbnbWhileBlack went viral, highlighting Airbnb hosts refusing bookings from Black travellers.

Cox says that the Black neighborhoods with the most Airbnb listings are all racially gentrifying, and that the loss of rental housing caused by Airbnb impacts everyone in these communities, “while the people benefitting from Airbnb are mostly new white residents or white investors.”

The Crown Height Tenants Union, a grass-roots tenant organizing group, welcomed the report. “Not only do these tools [Airbnb] intensify gentrification by reducing the number of apartments available to rent,” a spokesperson said, “but they do so while claiming they are generating wealth for long term community members and people of color. Unfortunately this report demonstrates these claims are completely baseless.”

The report highlights Stuyvesant Heights in Bedford-Stuyvesant as the Black neighborhood with the biggest racial gap, with 74.9% of Airbnb hosts estimated to be white, in a neighborhood which was still only 7.4% white.

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Racial Disparities in the Airbnb host Population in Stuyvesant Heights vs the Demographics of the Neighborhood. Source: Inside Airbnb

The State Assemblymember for Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Walter T. Mosely said that “Airbnb is making life harder for New York City’s renters” and that “this report exposes the racial disparity between the host community and the demographics of the neighborhood”.

City Councilmember Cornegy, a supporter of Airbnb in his Central Brooklyn district, which includes Stuyvesant Heights, has stated that the “spirit of hospitality is very much a part of the culture of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights and I’m proud to represent my constituents by defending it.”

Download the full report here.

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