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After claims of widespread racism against renters of color—and pressure from activists that sparked the viral hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack—Airbnb is enacting new policies to combat discrimination.
Laura Murphy, former head of the Washington ACLU, released a document today outlining the results of a 90-day review of the company’s practices, policies, and culture.
For the review, she met with civil rights leaders, elected officials, tourism executives, and expert consultants, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The new practices include a new nondiscrimination policy, a dedicated internal team focused on fighting bias, a more diverse workforce, better rule enforcement, diversity training for hosts and executives, and new a community statement, which asserts:
We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.
Additionally, Airbnb is enacting a new instant booking feature that will launch in January 2017, allowing guests to book without prior approval by the hosts—a practice that was at the heart of many discrimination claims. One of the more prominent incidents happened in June, when a renter wrote harassing, racist messages to a black woman who had booked his property, which led to his being banned from Airbnb.
Airbnb is also working on making profile images less prevalent in the profile and will be launching an “open door” policy that will ensure that guests who were discriminated against can find a place to stay.
Response to the new rules has been mixed, with people expressing support, skepticism, and dismay over the amount of time it took the company to address the issue of racism.
In May, University of Missouri Kansas City associate law professor Jamila Jefferson Jones wrote “Shut Out of Airbnb: A Proposal for Remedying Housing Discrimination in the Modern Sharing Economy” in Fordham Law Journal, which cited a study that found that black people were 16 percent less likely to be able to find a booking through Airbnb. Today, Jones remains skeptical about the new changes, telling the Guardian: “If someone is able to see the picture of the potential guest prior to whether they accept the booking, I think it’s still problematic.”
Lyz Lenz is currently the managing editor of the Rumpus. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Jezebel, the Columbia Journalism Review, and Mashable.