MIAMI - After claims of racial discrimination on its platform, home-sharing site Airbnb is partnering with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to attract more black hosts and guests to its site.
And they're launching the national program in Miami-Dade County.
Airbnb and NAACP will pilot the effort in Miami Gardens and Little Haiti, the partners announced Wednesday. They expect to expand to other cities nationwide in the future.
Under the partnership, the NAACP will assist Airbnb in recruiting more black users, a move both groups hope will bring more diversity to the platform and weed out instances of discrimination - whether explicit or implicit. In most past instances, Airbnb guests claim they were discriminated against by hosts who denied them a rental unit because of their race.
Torey Alston, vice president for the Florida NAACP and state economic development, housing and economic affairs chair, said the partnership will educate local black entrepreneurs on the opportunities that come with increased tourism traffic. For some, that could be the additional income from hosting guests; for others it could be setting up the ancillary businesses that cater to tourists - like restaurants and retail - or that cater to hosts - like cleaning, plumbing and painting services.
"Miami is a melting pot of cultures and it has a strong black business population, which also lends itself to strong black tourism dollars," Alston said. "It's a perfect market for potential black business and residents to increase their dollars and tourism dollars."
The African American community's spending power is about $1.2 trillion, according to a recent report from Nielsen. And that kind of potential is untapped in Miami, Alston said. There's only one major hotel in Miami Gardens, the Stadium Hotel, even though nearby Hard Rock Stadium is poised to host several major upcoming events, including the International Champions Cup soccer matches in July, a concert by Beyonce and Jay-Z in August and the 2020 Super Bowl.
"As we develop more and as we play host to more and more events at the stadium, and just in regards to our central location, I think it only makes sense to let people use their homes for Airbnb opportunities," said Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert - as long as it doesn't affect the nature and quality of its neighborhoods.
Airbnb's head of national partnerships, Janaye Ingram, who facilitated the partnership with NAACP, said the company also chose Little Haiti because it's the fastest growing neighborhood for hosts and guests in the county, with twice the growth rate of other areas of Miami-Dade.
"We've seen a lot of great progress happening in Miami," Ingram said. "We see this as an opportunity to educate and engage residents to be able to take full economic advantage of their homes ... and having the (Miami) Dolphins in Miami Gardens doesn't hurt."
In Florida, Airbnb is most popular in Miami-Dade, which is home to about 7,500 Airbnb hosts, the company said. The average Airbnb guest to the county spends about $250 a day, with about half of that money spent in the neighborhood where they're staying.
In recent years, some local residents and governments have voiced opposition to the short-term rentals. Miami Beach imposes $20,000 fines on Airbnb rentals in areas where the rentals are not legally allowed. The city of Miami - which includes Little Haiti - last year tried to pass a slew of Airbnb regulations but was ultimately blocked. The county passed a set of regulations for resident-hosts in unincorporated Miami-Dade last year.
Still, Airbnb plans to maintain a strong local presence. As part of its new partnership, the platform will share 20 percent of its earnings from its community outreach efforts with the NAACP. That 20 percent will not have an impact on what hosts make.
But some housing advocates worry the partnership may lead to fewer affordable housing options in communities around the country. Rentals that otherwise would have been available housing stock may instead be retained as Airbnb options, a critique that has followed the 10-year-old company as it has expanded around the world.
Alston at the NAACP said he believes the partnership will make it easier for residents to keep their homes thanks to the additional income, and that ultimately the partnership will be a net positive for the communities it works in.
"Our job with the NAACP is to ensure that there is affordable housing, that the plans and partnerships that we engage with are in the best interest of the black community and underserved groups," he said. "I can tell you that we are committed to ensure that this partnership truly delivers to the black community."
Complaints about discrimination by Airbnb hosts surfaced about two years ago. Users complained they were being rejected from renting properties because of their race, in some cases leading to lawsuits. In Airbnb's traditional model, hosts and guests prominently feature their photos and names, and hosts approve guests before they book.
Some guests of color complained they were being turned away. The frustrations were tracked on social media with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. Then in September 2016, Harvard Business School released a study that enforced what travelers were saying: Guests with traditionally black names found it 16 percent harder to receive a positive response from a host than a guest with a traditionally white name.
The backlash led to the creation of several similar sites, including Noirbnb and Innclusive, which operate similarly to Airbnb but target primarily African-American guests.
As a result of the controversy, Airbnb changed its platform to help minimize the instances of discrimination.
The site's new Open Doors policy allows guests to report discrimination to Airbnb and includes the promise that, while Airbnb investigates, it will rebook that person in a similar accommodation on the platform. If none are available, it will rebook the traveler in a hotel.
Since September 2016, Airbnb also has added more than 2 million instant bookings, which allow travelers to instantly book a rental without having to go through the vetting process with the host.
Users on Airbnb also now have to agree to its nondiscrimination policy, which calls for treating all members of the community equally, "regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age."
The policy allows Airbnb to remove people from its site, as it did with several accounts and bookings associated with the Unite the Right Free Speech Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
"The community commitment really is a way for us to establish who we are as a community," Ingram said. "And if you don't buy into our community, then you cannot be a part of our community."
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