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Airbnb to offer free housing to people in need--but there's still plenty of criticism for the short-term rental service

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The first two weeks of Donald Trump's presidency have proven to be highly divisive, and companies are already choosing sides. Some brands have taken a hit for their support of the new administration; Uber, for instance, continued to operate at JFK airport in the midst of a taxi strike over a travel ban on Muslims and was subsequently boycotted by hundreds of thousands, according to Esquire. Lyft, by contrast, pledged to donate $1 million to the ACLU, an apparently savvy play, given that its own membership surged shortly thereafter. 

Now, Airbnb is taking a similar (likely strategic) stand: The short-term rental service sent an email to members this morning that seems like a response to the president's executive orders banning visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries and threatening retaliation to sanctuary cities that refuse to turn undocumented immigrants over to federal law enforcement. Airbnb also ran an ad during Sunday's Super Bowl focusing on a message of acceptance: 

In the email, the company's three founders write that "the Airbnb community will provide free housing to refugees and those recently barred from entering the US," and ultimately offer temporary accommodations over the next five years to 100,000 people, including refugees, disaster survivors, and relief workers.

The rental service invites users to volunteer their homes to help refugees and other displaced people, as well as to make donations to relief organizations like the International Rescue Committee; Airbnb also pledged to donate $4 million to the IRC.

This isn't the first time that Airbnb has helped to open doors to people in need: The Huffington Post reports that last October, the company activated an emergency response feature that allowed users to offer free accommodation to evacuees of Hurricane Matthew. 

Airbnb's #weaccept hashtag on Twitter reveals that many are heartened by the company's tolerant stance: 

On the one hand, Airbnb's donation and open-door policy seems like a true act of generosity. On the other, the service continues to field some serious criticism for its hosts discriminating against people of color, for helping to remove rentals from an already burdened market, and for endangering neighbors in buildings where units are rented out to strangers. (It's also unclear how Airbnb can promise 100,000 when they're dependent on their membership to supply the housing, presumably on a volunteer basis.)

In a review of Tom Slee's book What's Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy, The Guardian points out that landlords in cities like San Francisco are removing much-needed long-term rentals from the market because there's more money to be made in renting them out on Airbnb--which is exactly why legislation has been passed in New York to fine Airbnb hosts in multi-tenant buildings. 

Furthermore, as its founders themselves acknowledged in their #weaccept e-mail, the rental service has faced myriad accusations of prejudice on the part of its hosts. Brick previously spoke to one would-be renter who was rejected based on his race; the problem is widespread enough that there are now competing services aiming to offer greater inclusivity than Airbnb. 

Finally, Airbnb horror stories don't seem to be in short supply. Last week, the New York Post wrote about one host whose guests broke into an apartment; he also allegedly let them drag furniture onto the roof, causing extensive damage, engage in drug use and prostitution, and set a fire in the hallway. 

Whether the company's expanded outreach to those in need balances out the considerable criticism against it remains to be seen—but like many other brands these days, Airbnb is likely banking on the fact that its opposition to Trump policies will bring in new users. 

 

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