Online vacation rental broker Airbnb is taking steps to reduce discriminatory rental practices.
The company introduced a ‘community commitment,’ which states that users of the service agree to treat protected classes, which include race, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity without judgement or bias. B.C.’s Human Rights Code states similar protected classes.
CJ Rowe, the executive director of Qmunity, a Vancouver-based non-profit that works to improve life in queer, trans and two-spirit communities, views it as a positive first step.
“I think the clearer we can be with intentions and explicit policy the stronger a company like Airbnb can be in terms of the next steps,” said Rowe.
The community commitment comes on the heels of numerous stories of discriminatory renting practices by Airbnb hosts in cities like Texas and Edmonton where hosts were accused of refusing service to racial minorities and LGBT renters.
While Rowe’s friend group hasn’t experienced examples of Airbnb host discrimination, Row says there’s likely a reason—decades of having to look after themselves in a world that hasn’t always been friendly.
“I think there’s a lot of us in queer, trans and two-spirit communities that do a bit of investigation and look at postings that are queer trans and two-spirit friendly,” said Rowe, noting that there’s hope that the gay community will one day no longer have to do that.
“Wouldn’t it be better if everyone knew how to enact respectful businesses?”
Rowe is interested to see what Airbnb does to make the community commitment stick—noting that organizations like Qmunity already engage in education and training in queer competency.
“I would love to see them engage with an educational campaign. I often see community commitments the same as when you download the new update for iTunes and you click agree without reading it.”
This isn’t the only issue Airbnb has run into lately. The company has been criticized for flooding the market with short-term rentals, causing a shortage in long-term ones. Vancouver apartment vacancy rates dropped to 0.8 per cent last year, spurring Coun. Geoff Meggs to expand and accelerate a study already underway by city staff on the effect Airbnb and similar websites are having on the supply of rental housing.
Airbnb’s public policy manager, Alex Dagg, pledged to work with communities to reduce his company’s negative impact on rental markets.
But Airbnb argues that they’ve been good for the economy—saying that the money hosts make off of renting out their properties helps local economies.
An economic impact study by University of Victoria business professor Brock Smith for Airbnb found that the 267,000 Airbnb guests who stayed in Vancouver in the 12 months ending on Aug. 31 spent close to $180,000 at local businesses and generated more than $400,000 in indirect economic activity.