Amid Charges of Racism and Rent Spiking, Airbnb Teams Up With Seattle Urban League

The platform says it’s a force for social justice, haters be damned.

Airbnb and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle on Thursday announced a partnership that will seek to enlist Urban League members as hosts on the platform.

In a press release, the League and Airbnb framed the effort as a way to give people more housing security, a clear reference to the fact that many black Seattleites feel forced out of the city by rising costs.

“For many, this is a time of economic uncertainty, and we strongly advocate exploring home sharing as a means to generate income and build wealth for yourself and your family,” Linda Taylor, Director of Financial Empowerment and Housing Services at the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, said in a press release.

For each host who signs up through the League before February 1 and books a room by March 31, Airbnb will give $100 to both the new host and the Urban League, according to the release.

The new effort comes as Airbnb fights against charges of racism on the platform. Over the summer, Airbnb was hit with a barrage of complaints that hosts unfairly denied bookings from black people. There was a Harvard study showing that guests with black-sounding names were 16 percent less likely to be accepted by a host than people with white sounding names. There were personal anecdotes on the New York Times. One guy said racism on Airbnb almost ended his relationship.

In response, Airbnb teamed up with former ACLU exeucitives and former Attorney General Eric Holder to develop new policies to combat the trend. Hosts now have to sign a pledge against bias, and The Atlantic reports that sensitivity training may be on the way.

Racism is not the only criticism the home-share services has provoked. Some also argue that the service exacerbates housing prices, since it makes it easier for people to hold on to apartments for short-term rental rather than put them on the market. Regulating Airbnb was actually a plank of the housing affordability recommendations released by a mayoral task force last year. The council is now exploring that proposal; Airbnb denies it is playing a part in Seattle’s soaring cost-of living.

The effort with the league seems to address both criticisms to a certain extent.

“Home sharing provides Americans with additional income to make ends meet and we look forward to working with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle to encourage more members of underserved communities to get involved in sharing their homes and stimulating economic activity in their neighborhoods,” Airbnb spokesperson Laura Rillos said in an email to the Weekly.

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