Since its inception nearly a decade ago, Airbnb has faced questions from people of color as to whether the company's worldwide "vacancy" sign really applied to them.
Now, as part of its attempt to turn that image around, Airbnb has announced a partnership with the NAACP. The goal is to put teeth in the home-sharing company's anti-discrimination efforts and to expand the number of people of color who are hosts on the site
The company has revised its policies and introduced more stringent penalties for hosts found to discriminate. A settlement in California this year involving an Asian woman resulted in the discriminatory host being banned from the site for life. A similar incident in North Carolina involved a black would-be guest.
Earlier this year, Airbnb hired Laura W. Murphy, the former director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office, to help shape the new policies and put practices in place that would make Airbnb more inclusive.
The announcement comes amid the NAACP's attempts to bring the organization closer to the younger activist audience that it hopes will be its next generation. While it continues to fight for things traditionally associated with the NAACP — voter enfranchisement, equal opportunities in education and housing — the 108-year-old organization is also stretching in new directions.
The NAACP describes the Airbnb partnership as "a landmark national agreement" that will encourage more people in communities of color to consider becoming Airbnb hosts.
"Our fastest-growing communities across major U.S. cities are in communities of color and we've seen how home sharing is an economic lifeline for families," Belinda Johnson, Airbnb's chief business affairs officer, said in a statement.
And it's not just host families who benefit: the company says Airbnb guests spend money in the neighborhoods where they're renting.
The partnership is notable in another way: Airbnb has committed to sharing 20 percent of the revenue from its community outreach efforts with the NAACP. It will also work with the NAACP to educate communities of color on the benefits and mechanics of home sharing as part of its planned outreach.
Airbnb also seeks to expand its employee base nation-wide, and has been working with the NAACP to increase the percentage of employees from underserved populations, from its current 9.6 percent to a target goal of 11 percent by the end of the year.
The partnership is seen as a laudable effort by a company to correct past discrimination by hosts participating in (and profiting from) their association with it. But there also may be more pragmatic reasons.
As Airbnb's Belinda Johnson noted, there is significant potential growth in communities of color.
Another possible factor? Competition from former Airbnb guests who experienced discrimination and set out to offer alternatives.
Noirbnb, which was launched last year, aims primarily at African-American guests and offers stays in about a half-dozen cities at home and abroad. Innclusive (which began as Noirebnb — note the 'e' — and changed names to avoid confusion) also launched last year and has an even larger selection.
Some critics are giving the new partnership the side-eye, though.
The web site CityLab points out that, in many of the cities in which Airbnb is popular, rental housing stock is at an all-time low.
Properties that could be long-term rentals, CityLab says, are often held back to be used as temporary rentals for Airbnb and other companies. Which makes the remaining available stock even more expensive. So, for homeowners who are people of color, Airbnb may be a boon. For renters? Perhaps not so much.