Correcting a flawed “study’s” false assertions about our community

This week, the anti-home sharing website Inside Airbnb released a deeply flawed report that relies on discredited methodologies to make a series of misleading and divisive assertions about the Airbnb host community in historically Black neighborhoods in New York City.

The report falsely claims that Airbnb is promoting “racial gentrification.” But a deeper look reveals that this “study” tries to identify the race of Airbnb hosts by combining software and human reviews of Airbnb host photographs—a method akin to racial profiling. This report is wrong in its conclusions from start to finish. As Dr. Robert W. Livingston, PhD, explains:

“This report lacks any semblance of methodological rigor. For starters, there is no comparison or control condition. Therefore, we are unable to draw even basic conclusions—such as whether the findings are specific to Black neighborhoods or whether they are characteristic of all neighborhoods.

Secondly, the findings within Black neighborhoods vary greatly. In some Black neighborhoods, Blacks control over 80 percent of the Airbnb listings, whereas in other Black neighborhoods Blacks control less than 10 percent of the Airbnb listings. What accounts for this sizable discrepancy? Home ownership rates? Other factors? No explanation is provided.

Finally, the method of determining race is both inconsistent and problematic. The report uses very different criteria for racial classification for residents (self-identification) versus hosts (computer analysis of Airbnb host photographs). Therefore, it’s difficult to make correlations or comparisons across these categories. Any differences in percentages of residents versus Airbnb hosts could be due to differences in how race was determined in each of these two categories.

In addition, the practice of determining race from computer software is problematic, controversial, and even offensive to some. Because racial phenotypes represent a continuum rather than a dichotomy, any attempt to sort people into racial categories using physical appearance alone will be fraught with error and inaccuracies, particularly where there is no option for multi-racial classification.

In summary, it is extremely difficult to draw any scientifically valid conclusions from the methodology and data presented in this report.”

In addition to Dr. Livingston, other academics and researchers who reviewed the report point out further flaws. They include:

  • The methodology not only does not allow hosts to be categorized as multi-racial (according to the latest Census figures, nearly 285,000 New Yorkers identify as more than one race), but has no ability to tag hosts as Hispanic/Latino because the software used only includes codes for “white, black, and asian.”
  • Airbnb does not ask hosts or guests for information related to their racial identity. As a result, the authors of this report attempted to determine the race of individual hosts by using suspect technology to assign race by analyzing Airbnb users’ profile photos alone.

Put simply, this is not an academic report. It has not been peer-reviewed. And it does not use a methodology worthy of attention. Rather, it seizes on discredited and offensive methods to make a false argument about Airbnb’s impact on Black neighborhoods.

For further reference, please see the statements below from other established academics, community leaders, and hosts who reviewed this report:

Laura Murphy, civil rights leader and former head of ACLU’s Washington Legislative office
This study methodology and data  is so flawed that there is no way that anyone can put stock in its conclusions.

This study promotes a biased belief that neighborhoods should remain segregated based on race and class and that is deeply disturbing.

This study wants to divert you from the fact that people are able to afford their homes and apartments now more than ever because they make additional income from home sharing.  My question is, other than gouge you for high room rates, and give some people mainly low-wage jobs, what has the hotel industry done for you and your neighborhoods lately?

This is all a diversion tactic backed by a lodging industry that is deeply threatened by Airbnb. An individual can supplement their income through Airbnb. Airbnb can bring tourism dollars to neighborhoods that will never see a hotel built in their community. Families and travelers can now afford to come to New York instead of being locked out by price-gouging hotels.

This is a classic case of “race-bait and switch” and folks should not allow a desperate industry to use inaccurate information to tell them how to think and what to believe.

John M. Eason, PhD, Texas A&M University
For generations, communities of color have faced barriers to homeownership-—from government-endorsed redlining to racially-restrictive covenants that closed off the American Dream to millions. Now comes a report using dubious methodology to draw a completely backward conclusion about the effect of home sharing in these same communities. Instead of doubling down on the discriminatory policies of the past, New York should embrace this innovative tool to foster economic opportunity across the Empire State.

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Bedford-Stuyvesant)
I firmly believe in a shared economy model that seeks to integrate the brick and mortar businesses. It has created an ecosystem where businesses have been able to increase revenue, and expose the outer boroughs to tourism, culture and hospitality. Clearly Airbnb is here to stay, with over 1,100 Airbnb hosts in my district alone. It is easy to see that home sharing is providing an opportunity for people to stay in their homes and act as ambassadors for their respective communities. I believe that home sharing should play an active role in our cities future growth and development.

Assembly Member Pamela Harris (Coney Island)
Airbnb and other home sharing platforms allow tourists and visitors to enjoy everything Coney Island has to offer despite hotels all across the island having to shut their doors. It’s a win for everyone—residents can use their homes to generate income and visitors can come here and take in all the attractions, all while investing in our local economy.

Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem
It’s very hard for me to understand why an individual from Australia who now lives in Bed-Stuy would be attacking this community for gentrification. While he gets paid by the big hotel industry to put out reports like this, long-term residents are fighting to stay in the neighborhoods they grew up in by sharing their homes. Shame on him.

Minister Kirsten John Foy, Northeast regional director of the National Action Network
Like Black folks are known to say, ‘Once we master the game, they change the rules.’ So it comes as no surprise that the government and a hotel industry with a history of discrimination are threatening to stifle an innovative source of supplemental income and empowerment for our community. We aren’t going to stand by and watch it happen. We’re going to fight for our families and our neighborhoods, block by block.

Rev. Dr. Patrick Young, First Baptist Church in East Elmhurst
Furthermore, this report doesn’t lend a voice to black homeowners who can give clear and credible insight on the progressive changes and work of Airbnb. This report is the continual effort to keep underrepresented communities out of the sharing economy!

Pastor Quinton Chad Foster, Bethany Baptist Church in Harlem
As a faith leader, I believe in welcoming migrants, foreigners, and travelers, knowing that each of us in our own lives is a migrant, a foreigner, a traveler. Home sharing is rooted in this fundamental value of belonging and I denounce any effort to divide our community and undermine this source of understanding and opportunity.

Richelle Burnett, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, Bed-Stuy
My home has been in my family for four generations before Bed-Stuy was internationally known. For the hotel industry to create a “report” with so many falsehoods is disrespectful to me and my ancestors who invested their all to make this community.  I have lived here all my life and plan on having my children do the same.  Airbnb has made this possible. This platform has become a lifeline for thousands of families and also an economic stimulus for communities. I refuse to allow the well established hotel industry to tell me who I am and what I can be. They do not understand our communities, our experiences, and our struggles.

Devika Bholananth, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, Queens
Home sharing has allowed me to stay in my home, support my neighborhood, and provide visitors with a local experience. This divisive report pits communities against one another and misrepresents the essence of what we as hosts do to serve our neighborhoods.

Lee Thomas, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, Queens
It’s 2017. Aren’t we supposed to be beyond looking at a single picture to assume an individual’s race, color, or creed? This report uses antiquated, discredited definitions of race to pit neighbor against neighbor. As an Airbnb host and a New Yorker, I refuse to be silent in the face of this attack on our community.

Julio Pabon, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, Bronx
First they imposed restrictive covenants that enforced segregation. Then they redlined us out of communities. Now they’re cooking up outrageous “studies” that claim we don’t benefit from the economic opportunity provided by home sharing. It may be the 21st century, but we’re still fighting for equality in our nation and our neighborhoods and I dare anyone to tell me that my family doesn’t benefit from home sharing.

Joy Williams, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, Harlem
For generations, people of color have faced discrimination in our effort to achieve the American Dream of homeownership. Today, home sharing is allowing many of us to keep our family homes or secure a home for the first time, so we shouldn’t be surprised that some just can’t accept it. Far from being an engine of gentrification, home sharing is a bulwark against it. I’m here to stand and fight, for my family and my community.

Lisa Heller, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, Fort Greene
Airbnb is helping some black homeowners in mixed and traditionally black neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene stay in their homes.The extra income is an economic lifeline. In a time when people are losing their homes to the rising costs of rent, property taxes and foreclosure; home sharing continues to help people in NYC stay afloat!

Yahaira Vargas, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, North Bronx
The hotel industry has never cared about the effects of gentrification and have actually encouraged it. We use this to pay our rents and bills, not gentrify or make a profit like their huge industry. Now that they see competition in the form of average New Yorkers sharing their homes for supplemental income, they started attacking us relentlessly. We’re just average New Yorkers sharing our home and introducing the world the small businesses in our area. Instead of pulling data in such an offensive way, why not work together instead of attacking minorities through unjust laws.

Heather-Sky McField, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, East New York
Airbnb has provided me with the income to start my own business, stimulate my local economy, and help me keep my home. If not for this platform I may have been forced into foreclosure.  Airbnb has truly been a safety net for me. We did not create gentrification, but we are fighting it to not only stay in the communities that we have called home for so long but create economic opportunities for ourselves.

Dr. Kathleen Watson, Airbnb Home Sharing Club member, community leader, Prospect Heights
As a single Black woman Airbnb helps me stay afloat and more importantly stay connected to community. In 1980, I bought my four-story, two-family brownstone in Prospect Heights. I was a physical rehabilitation and sports medicine doctor prior to a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a motorcycle 19 years ago. After that happened I had to give up my medical practice and reorient my life to improving my brain function.  Airbnb helps New Yorkers find their way through difficult times. What I earn by hosting supplements my disability insurance and that eases the stresses of living in an expensive city. Airbnb makes it easier for me to live on a fixed income.

Roxanne Hancock, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, East Harlem
Inside Airbnb’s report does not reflect true numbers of those home sharing in Black neighborhoods; it uses one highly successful platform to define what is happening in the entire community. Caribbean and African American people have historically home-shared through word of mouth. The rooms or apartments are not listed through Craigslist or any home sharing platform. Being a first-generation American, many of my own relatives and family friends used strictly this verbal method of seeking and offering shelter to visitors or new transplants to the city. Older owners of Brooklyn and Harlem brownstones are also wary of newfangled technology and ways of tracking their income. As an educated Airbnb superhost and Black female homeowner, I find the false narrative that Black people are being victimized by Airbnb offensive.  For those of us who are capable to maintain, manage and receive guests into our home, it is a lucrative way to enjoy and maintain your home and lifestyle in this expensive city.

Adrianne Smith, Harlem host and Harlem Business Alliance board member
As an Airbnb host and Harlem Business Alliance board of directors member, I can tell you firsthand that we are welcoming more visitors each year, who economically support our Harlem based stores and restaurants. Plainly stated, this means more money in the pockets of the entrepreneurs who live and work in our community. We should be supported at every turn. This “report” targets African American hosts like myself who use Airbnb as a way to supplement our income. The Share Better Coalition and Inside Airbnb refuse to understand the issues and complexities of gentrification in my community. Racially profiling hosts through a computer software is not the way to fight against gentrification in historically African American and Caribbean neighborhoods.

Jewel, Airbnb Home Sharing Club leader, Flatbush
The hotel industry has never offered solutions to gentrification instead they sat on the sidelines while developers took over our communities. Listing my space on Airbnb has allowed me to afford the ever increasing rent in my rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Let’s search for solutions instead of vilifying hosts like me that use Airbnb to stay in their home.

Regina Smith, executive director of the Harlem Business Alliance
I disagree with claims that Airbnb hosts are the drivers of gentrification within our communities. That process has unfolded over the last several decades. We stand together with our Harlem Airbnb homeowners and the significant revenue they and their guests contribute to our neighborhood.

Rotimi Akinnuoye, owner of Bed-Vyne Brew, Bed-Vyne Wine, and Bed-Vyne Cocktail
As a small business owner in Bed-Stuy, it is obvious that the people behind this report do not understand or care about why home sharing matters. Airbnb helps communities of color by supporting small businesses and the entire NYC economy. We’ve opened three businesses within the last five years. This is possible partially thanks to the income generated through Airbnb guests and hosts. Take time to understand what homesharing is and how it helps our communities before you attack hosts of color and small business owners for trying to thrive.

Kenneth Mbonu, small business leader, Bed-Stuy
The economic recession in 2008, resulted in high foreclosures in communities of color. Residents have relied on Airbnb as a revenue source to pay their mortgage/rent and keep their homes. Airbnb also mitigates racial perception about people of color and communities of color. This study does nothing but prove how far they are willing to go to attack communities trying to create economic opportunities for themselves.”