After the 2012 downturn in the economy Sarah found herself having to move from her apartment in Manhattan to a shared apartment with a roommate in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. When her roommate moved out, Sarah, considered getting a new roommate to help pay the rent, but decided to turn to apartment sharing website, Airbnb as an easy way to stay in her apartment and still pay her bills.
Along with the recent wave of gentrification in Crown Heights, tourism in the neighborhood has also increased, and Airbnb is right in the middle of it.
Many Crown Heights residents- 78% of which are African-American and Hispanic, are capitalizing on this renewed interest in their neighborhood and becoming Airbnb hosts as a means of creating new sources of income for their households and subsequently meeting the demand for more short-term rental space for eager tourists.
Sarah, 61, a furniture saleswoman, whose name has been changed to maintain her anonymity, is one of those Crown Heights residents who have recently become an Airbnb host. Since July, Sarah has hosted guests from around the world in one bedroom of her $1500 a month apartment. So far it’s been a success, raking in $1200 to $1700 a month in income.
“I was booked solid for September and October-I’ve been booked almost every single day,” said Sarah.
Sarah sees gentrification as a drawing force for travelers who may not have previously considered Crown Heights as a place to stay. She points to the cafes, yoga shops, and specialty stores that have opened in recent years, an improved sense of safety in the area, and her prime location near the Brooklyn Museum of Art and a major subway line, as attractants for adventurous travelers willing to give Crown Heights a chance.
“I think that gentrification has definitely helped me to grow with this [Airbnb],” said Sarah.
The added income from Airbnb rentals can often be the difference between paying bills or not for hosts like Sarah.
“I had one month that was really slow,” said Sarah. “My commission check was horrible and Airbnb paid the rent and utilities that month. ”
Sarah shares her Airbnb experience with other Crown Heights residents interested in making money and avoiding problematic tenants. As a furniture saleswoman, many of her customers are interested in starting an Airbnb. According to Sarah, all of them share a common thread.
“They have all been people of color.”
According to the September 2015 Elliman Report, Brooklyn residential rental prices increased 8% from August 2014 to August 2015. With skyrocketing rents, that anti-gentrification protesters say push out black and Hispanic tenants, renters are anxious to find ways to offset rent increases. For a neighborhood with a median household income of $41,000, the average rental price per month of $3,400 for Brooklyn apartments can be too much to bear. For some, Airbnb is the solution.
But critics say Airbnb is to blame for Brooklyn’s housing crisis. “While the lion’s share of its units remain in already-gentrifying neighborhoods, Airbnb has thoroughly penetrated areas like Harlem and Bed-Stuy—precisely the communities that are least equipped to lose their rent-regulated apartments,” said Public Advocate Letitia James, in a testimony to the City Council in January. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman echoed such sentiments in his report on the “illegality” of Airbnb in New York City in which he stated “private short-term rentals displaced long-term housing in thousands of apartments” making them inaccessible for use by long-term residents.
But Sarah doubts such claims. “Its not like they’re going to say ‘there is an affordable apartment that has opened up and I’m going to let someone have it and not raise the rent’,” said Sarah. “That’s not happening.”
According to an Airbnb spokesperson, Airbnb actually helps keep Crown Heights affordable. “With the cost of living on the rise in Crown Heights, and across Brooklyn, home sharing is making it possible for middle class families to pay the bills and make ends meet.”
In Airbnb’s 2014 report on it’s economic impact on New York City, Airbnb claims that it benefits the overall economic health of the communities where Airbnb travelers stay. According to the report, Brooklyn received a $84 million boost to its economy thanks to the business of 118,400 Airbnb users who on average reportedly spent about $740 per stay in the neighborhood where their Airbnb was located.
Sarah notices that her guests often support local businesses during their stay.
“I see them come in with food from the different neighborhood restaurants,” said Sarah. “I don’t know if they’re spending millions of dollars here but they are spending money in the neighborhood.”