From the Revolutionary War to the Civil Rights Movement, Americans have cherished their right to open their homes to family, friends, Freedom Fighters, and travelers alike.
Enslaved people who escaped to freedom were aided by good people—White and Black—who opened their homes and provided sanctuary at great risk to property and person. A century later, organizers from Greensboro to Montgomery, relied on good people opening their homes, businesses and places of worship to provide sanctuary to marchers and protestors, again at great mortal risk.
Today in America, we have eliminated the inhuman scourge of chattel slavery and taken significant steps toward the expansion of equal protection under law, but we remain deeply entrenched in a battle against income inequality and economic injustice.
This latest threat to realizing economic opportunity is an aggressive campaign spearheaded by the two-headed alliance of the real-estate development community and the hotel industry. These entrenched players are engaged in backroom lobbying in Albany to end home sharing and redirect the supplemental income earned by thousands of middle class New Yorkers—many of them Black and Brown and over 70 percent of whom rely on home sharing to stay in their homes—to their own bottom lines.
This is just the latest attack on Black and Brown households and families that were disproportionately devastated by the Great Recession. Because of platforms like Airbnb, middle and working class families who barely survived the crisis have been empowered to rebuild their economic lives and the economic foundation of their communities.
Indeed, while the bulk of economic activity in New York City remains concentrated in a handful of zip codes in Midtown and Lower Manhattan, Airbnb democratized travel, with nearly 90 percent of host listings outside the Midtown hotel district and the vast majority of guest spending taking place at local businesses outside traditional tourist neighborhoods.
In 2016 Airbnb generated nearly $60 million for hosts in predominantly-Hispanic neighborhoods and over $50 million for hosts in predominantly-Black neighborhoods. This wealth is spread through the micro economies of our neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Jamaica, Queens, Coney Island and the South Bronx. Restaurants and local business like Bedford Hall in Bed-Stuy and Sylvia’s in Harlem reap the benefits; mom and pop shops, authentic cultural merchants and services are all patronized and supported. These businesses then in turn hire and train locally creating not just new jobs but supporting the growth of new indigenous businesses. In fact, in 2016 alone, home sharing helped to generate and support 38,000 jobs in New York State.
Unfortunately, the state and city of New York have instituted policies that threaten to stifle innovation and undermine efforts to grow our economy from the bottom up and from the middle out—taking money directly from the pockets of everyday New Yorkers to enrich Big Hotel.
In recent months, the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (MOSE) has harassed New Yorkers who share their own homes in a politically-motivated effort to deter the growth of home sharing. Whether it’s a long-time resident of Sunset Park who was cited for sharing his immigrant family’s historic home or a single mother on Staten Island who shares her home to support her children, it’s clear that MOSE isn’t targeting the bad actors to protect affordable housing—it’s trying to scare New Yorkers on behalf of the hotel industry.
Even as MOSE has targeted middle class New Yorkers, the home sharing industry has been taking steps to crack down on landlords who turn apartment buildings into illegal hotels, while protecting New Yorkers’ rights to share their homes.
In fact, just this month, Assemblyman Joe Lentol of the New York State Assembly introduced legislation that would protect the vast majority of hosts who earn part-time, supplemental income from home sharing, and further punish the truly bad actors looking to profit off of illegal hotels. This proposal aligns with polls showing that nearly 80 percent of New Yorkers believe people should be allowed to share their own homes.
Of course, while opponents claim that they are concerned about affordable housing, their actions speak otherwise. Indeed, even as the hotel industry has put out misleading information in an effort to attack Assemblyman Lentol’s bill, the industry pushed through a law to prevent hotels from being converted to much needed residential housing.
That’s right: the same opponents who falsely accuse middle class hosts of turning permanent housing into transient accommodation are supporting a law that will prevent the conversion of transient accommodations to permanent housing. We have a word for that: hypocrisy.
The time has come to embrace the cultural exchange of home sharing—an industry whose very nature reflects New York’s status as the melting pot of the world. Instead of discriminating against Black and Brown families and entrepreneurs in favor of a hotel industry with record profits, New York should embrace the economic opportunity of this innovative industry by passing Assemblymember Lentol’s bill.
Rev. Kirsten Foy is the northeast regional director of the National Action Network. NAN receives financial support from AirBnB. The company says: “The National Action Network is one of the many organizations that Airbnb is proud to work with in New York and across the country.”