Charity as a Cheap Stunt: Airbnb’s Philanthropic Bid to Buy off New York

Airbnb,” Open Grid Scheduler

August 15, 2018; New York Times

Airbnb would like to legitimize itself in New York amid rising concerns about its effect on local affordable housing stocks, so it has put its heft behind a bill in the state legislature that would allow Airbnb to collect taxes from guests like hotels do, which it believes would relieve some of the pressure short-term rentals cause.

Following on efforts to partner with the NAACP last month, Airbnb committed yesterday to donating $10 million to a group of local NYC nonprofits. These include the New York Immigration Coalition, the New York State Rural Housing Coalition, the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem, and Women in Need (Win), whose leader is Christine C. Quinn, the City Council’s former speaker.

“We wanted to make the point of what the impact of tax collection and remittances would be if we were able to collect on behalf of our community here,” said Airbnb’s Josh Meltzer.

This philanthropic tactic does not, of course, stand alone, in that the company also has a super-PAC spending millions on advertising.

The company has a lot to gain and to lose in this fight. Last week, a bill was signed into law in New York City that requires short-term rental companies like Airbnb to provide the names and addresses of those providing short-term rentals in order to monitor the legality and social effects of the business.

New York Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat whose district includes the Upper West Side of Manhattan, said, “To me, this is about a company that has suddenly realized that it has no more friends left and because of that it is trying to form new relationships…It’s like an arsonist that sets a fire and then goes to put it out.”

But Win, at least, did accept the $1.5 million donation, saying that the organization has received previous gifts from the company that total $150,000.

“It creates, really, the possibility for Win to help break the cycle of homelessness,” Quinn said about the contribution to the organization that addresses—perhaps somewhat ironically, homelessness. She made no comment on the pending bill.—Ruth McCambridge