Airbnb’s racism problem is much bigger than a few racist hosts.
David Robinson
1.2K126

Gosh where to start. I have a number of things I want to say in response to this article. Let me drink some black coffee first.

Hipster what? First off, I have to say I do not like how the term hipster has evolved. It seems to be a dismissive way to refer to people and things, that is not necessarily based on race, but does mostly mean ‘young white people with tech jobs’. Except the people catching the flak for being hipsters are probably not the tech-somethings that you think they are. Actual tech workers are more boring than you imagine. And those ‘hipsters’ are probably artists, musicians, LGBT and who knows what else. In other words it’s a catch all term that applies to different people who just don’t fit in to a neat pigeonhole. It bothers me because I used to say ‘those hipsters’ all the time. Then I had some kind of epiphany, or maybe my friend Tara yelled at me. And I realized that 20 years ago I was a twentysomething that did not fit easily into simple categories.

I think it is strange when we use this adjective to describe businesses. It’s kind of being dismissive of the business as a fashion statement. As if the coffee or ice cream they make is just a joke.

I’ve change my mind on this word gentrification as well. At one point I happily jerked my finger in the direction of any new construction and inflected gentrification as a curse word. This was easy to do in the early 2000’s. Anyone of artistic sensitivity would be offended by the hideous condos which sprung up all over the Bay Area (and many other major metro areas too).

In Oakland our mayor, Jerry Brown had an infamous plan to bring 10,000 yuppies to downtown. So his administration had a hand in making sure those plentiful developments moved forward. Now all during the knocking down of buildings and construction of looming multi-residence towers we complained. We cursed Jerry Brown. We cursed ‘the yuppies’. We spat on the sidewalk whenever a BMW drove by (today’s equivalent would be a Tesla). But I cannot argue with the results.

You see back in the 90’s downtown Oakland was a wasteland. The majority of storefronts between 12th st and 19th st where shuttered. Much of the office space in downtown was empty. Aside from Oakland Chinatown, there really wasn’t any human activity downtown. It was a great place to get mugged.

At some point the influx of yuppies and occupation of downtown retail spaces tipped over. I give a lot of credit to Peter Van Kleef’s “Van Kleef Cafe”. I’ve known Peter since the 90’s. He used to live down the hall from me in a building on 4th and Alice st. All of that kitschy nonsense you see in Van Kleef Cafe used to be in his apartment! He opened that cafe in the early 2000’s when the only other storefronts nearby where a 24 hour pizza joint and a family dental. I’d also point out that Peter is at least a decade older than me, so easily not one of those ‘hipsters’. He is just an eccentric weirdo. The kind that used to be much more plentiful in the Bay Area, and Oakland specifically.

Downtown as you see it now is full of stores, restaurants and cafes. And there are even non-service industry businesses too! Sure some of them are kind of silly and may not be to my taste. But I think it is great that Oakland’s downtown is no longer so depopulated that you might fear for your safety after dark.

It is kind of strange that you did not mention ‘Oaksterdam’. But I suppose the heyday of Oakland’s pot dispensary district are in the rearview mirror. AFAIK there is still a pot growing school and a couple dispensaries downtown.

I no longer live in Oakland. I used to have a great middle class job in downtown SF. But the increasing cost of living, coupled with spiraling housing costs drove me out. It is impossible to ignore that this really grew out of my reach right about the time that AirBNB started making the news. When I lost my last apartment I spent about 6 months looking for any studio or one bedroom I could find under $1700. I would show up to look at a unit in a borderline neighborhood and there would be dozens of applicants. Younger, better dressed, and probably earning more than I. At one point I was living out of my car. Yes I was earning more than the median wage for the Bay Area. A lot more than median income for Oakland. And I could not find or afford an apartment.

I eventually found a tiny, tiny, microscopic $1000 a month sublet in San Francisco’s Mission. Which gave me enough time to get my affairs in order and leave California.

At this point I want to point out that I lived in Oakland for about 25 years. I remember the horrific violence of the late 80’s and early 90’s when I lived in West Oakland. The idly corrupt administration of Elihu Harris. I also recall that Oakland was a place where an artist or musician could find a cheap place to live for a few hundred dollars. Which enabled them to live off of a part time job and have free time to create. It was a place where lower income people lived, not struggled. It was also never so hard find an apartment in Oakland until just a few years ago.

So then I moved to Brooklyn. I have family and a couple friends out here. Besides, I’ve never lived any place that it snows. Finding an apartment in Brooklyn is almost as hard as it is to find one in the Bay Area. Except that there are simply more of them. So it is not impossible.

The particular living situation I landed in was a 5 bedroom in Crown Heights. The rent was comparable to what I had been paying to stay in the mission, but a larger space. This is the new normal. The guy on the lease, lets call him ‘Steve”, was a gregarious entrepaneur type. After he showed me around and gave me a key he explained that he would be away on a business trip for a while. He’s going to be ABnBing his room. Is that okay?

Turns out ‘Steve’ was always on a trip. And 2 of the rooms were always hosting ABnB guests. ‘Steve’ did not have a job. This was his job. He’d scored a lease on a 5 bedroom and was easily breaking even. The other longer term housemates and myself felt sorry for the guests. They were coming from all over the world to visit New. York. City! And they get some resentful housemates in a dingy Brooklyn flat with no AC and spotty heat.

We used to joke that he probably had a similar arrangement at houses in several cities. And just rotated through them all to keep up appearances. I’m not sure it is illegal, or against ABnB policy, but I am certain that our host was never there for more than 2 months out of the year. Suffice it to say, I no longer live in that 5 bedroom! And I don’t patronize ABnB.

Airbnb removes bedrooms, and whole apartments from the normal rental market. I’m willing to bet that there are units being kept off of the real estate market as well.

It is capitalism 101. When the supply is decreased, demand goes up. And so does the price. I am quite certain that the ‘gentrification’ that so many people are trying to hang on young (mostly white) tech workers, is really AirBnB-ification. An artificial re-organization of the rental market. New York and the Bay Area have weathered many boom cycles. I do not see that there is a specific ‘boom’ happening right now. But there is a palpable deficit of units on the market. Not because of ‘tech hipsters’. Because thanks AirBnB.