Airbnb has come under fire for driving up housing costs in major cities. While the economics of whether or not home sharing are a cause of rising rents is still up for debate, Airbnb has gone from flat out denying they’re contributing to the problem to actually claiming they’re the solution.
In its most recent ad campaign, the company has tweaked its marketing strategy to reflect this. While the Silicon Valley unicorn (currently valued around $30 billion) used to tout itself as a more affordable alternative to hotels and a way to experience a new place like you live there, Airbnb is now pushing that using their platform to rent out either part of or your entire apartment is a way to supplement your income so you can continue to afford your neighborhood.
Through a series of written testimonies and video ads shot in black and white, Airbnb has been sharing stories of hosts who say they can afford to stay in their homes only thanks to Airbnb. In one video, Eric, a host in the Bronx, says that many people he knows have had to leave his neighborhood because they could no longer afford it but Airbnb allowed him to stay. The Twitter account @AirbnbAction—which promotes these stories and recently became active again after a dormant five months—tweeted out his video with a caption saying that homesharing is a blessing for Eric.
In the following video, a couple stares dismally (one into the camera and one into the distance) before text reading “Airbnb has allowed Richelle and Pela to stay in their Bedford-Stuyvesant home and raise their 3 children” flashes on the screen.
In a written story titled “Hosting is Keeping Linda’s Family in Their Home,” a Queens mother of two says, “I 100% rely on Airbnb to make ends meet. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t share my home anymore.” While the videos conclude with simple message urging viewers to “protect the middle class” by opposing the recently passed Anti-Airbnb A8704C bill that, if passed, would make it illegal to advertise short-term rentals (less than 30 days) for entire homes on Airbnb, the written stories delve into a deeper plug. The conclusion of Linda’s testimony reads:
“The best part about Airbnb? It gives me the financial freedom to be a mom.” That freedom is in jeopardy right now, thanks to a broadly written bill that was recently passed by the New York legislature. If this bill becomes law, politicians in Albany would be robbing middle class New Yorkers of the very economic lifeline that keeps them afloat. But that’s not all. The harmful and overreaching legislation threatens to fine hosts like Linda up to $7,500 just for listing their home on Airbnb. “I 100% rely on Airbnb to make ends meet. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t share my home anymore.”
Linda says limiting home sharing would deeply impact her guests, as well. “I talk to all of my guests who stay with me, and they always say they’d never be able to afford a trip to New York if it weren’t for places to stay like mine.”
The ad campaign and aforementioned Twitter account being used to promote it are touting Airbnb as a savior, calling it “a life preserver” and way to “make ends meet” while referencing “the power of homesharing.” It’s not being received well, though. People are furious over the campaign and calling out Airbnb for positioning itself as a guardian of those being priced out of their homes, which many argue is partly happening because of Airbnb. In the interest of profits, some landlords have taken to consistently renting out their units short-term on Airbnb rather than rent them out on leases, which is the problem the bill is trying to stop.
While Airbnb is making the case that these people are taking initiative and using a resource to provide for their families, people are condemning the company for encouraging vulnerable New Yorkers (as well as some residents of other cities) to simply give up their homes rather than fight for change. “‘Low wages, landlords and gentrification got you down? Don’t organize for change, rent out part of your home,'” wrote one commenter on Twitter, where the ads are being pushed through paid promotions.
While this bill has seen a lot of opposition in the tech industry and it’s true that many regular renters who are not greedy landlords benefit from Airbnb, it’s the claim that those struggling should use this multi-billion dollar company to essentially overcome gentrification that has people upset. There’s also the fact that the people featured in these ads (and people affected by gentrification in general) are predominantly people of color. This campaign appears to be less about the well-being of these people and more in the interest of the company, which wants to stop a bill that would regulate it and seriously torpedo business in NYC and any places that follows suit—and it seems they’re using the backs of these people to move their initiative forward. Since Airbnb is known to be unfriendly to black people (a study found that hosts discriminate against them when choosing guests, many black guests have come forward about it and alternative platforms to Airbnb have even popped up to fight the problem), the use of these ads to promote opposition to the bill is especially problematic for many.
Following this campaign and a number of tweets about Black Lives Matter, users have been tweeting that they are unfollowing the company and won’t be using the platform anymore.
On this topic, Airbnb provided us with the following statement courtesy of Josh Meltzer, New York Head of Public Policy at Airbnb:
“For thousands of New Yorkers in every corner of this state, home sharing has become an economic life preserver, making it possible for regular people to pay the bills and make ends meet. The pending legislation demonstrates that there was no attempt by the legislature to differentiate between the vast majority of responsible hosts who should be protected under the law, and the illegal hotel operators who should be penalized. We have a responsibility to support our host community and will continue to tell their stories until that difference is understood.”