On January 9, three days after President Trump supporters started a riot at the US Capitol—Sean Evans decided it was time to act. Evans had seen a post on Nextdoor about neighbors clashing with hostile Trump supporters on the night of the riot, leading to a verbal altercation that left residents in his corner of northwest DC angry. Now, rumors were circulating online that President-elect Joe Biden’s upcoming inauguration would draw more protesters and more gun violence to the streets of his city. “I don’t want them in my neighborhood,” Evans thought. In fact, he didn’t want any insurgents in the city at all.
So on Nextdoor, Evans asked his neighbors to stop renting out their properties via Airbnb and VRBO. A few hours later, another neighbor created a hashtag: #DontRentDC.
Separately, a group called ShutDownDC has assembled 500 volunteers to send messages to Airbnb hosts in the DC area. The group sent messages to managers at 3,400 properties in the area, polite messages, according to ShutDownDC organizer Alex Dodd. The messages alerted Airbnb hosts of an upcoming threat and asked them to refrain from booking anyone to their homes in the days surrounding the grand opening.
It worked. Airbnb announced on Wednesday that it will cancel and block all reservations in the Washington area next week. Customers who had booked reservations would be reimbursed; if hosts had reservations or canceled them recently, they would be refunded for lost income. Airbnb spokesman Ben Breit said the company “made the move following dialogue with Washington, DC, officials, the Metro Police Department and members of Congress.” (Earlier in the week, the DC mayor asked people not to attend the grand opening; many of the usual inaugural events will take place online.)
For Airbnb, the incident reminds us that all of its policies are local. The company, now publicly traded with a value of over $ 100 billion, has made its reputation by selling visitors on the authenticity of the neighborhood. But its business model has sometimes made it a lightning rod for local affairs and left it scrambling to solve social ills. Airbnb has struggled with local governments to allow short-term rental in residential areas. He has struggling with local officials on taxes and data sharing. He has reshaped economies small vacation towns. He tried to prevent big parties in the rentals, which at times led to violence. More recently he met the anger of neighbors who do not want people infected with the virus filling their overcrowded intensive care units.
In Washington this month, residents first attempted to respond to the insurgency violence themselves. Evans, the organizer of NextDoor, thought it was easier that way. “I thought it would probably be more difficult for me to ask Airbnb management to review the emails we sent them. So I was like, “Let’s try to do this from A to Z and contact the neighbors in our neighborhood.” Most of the owners he contacted were nice about it, he says. Some were unaware of the security threats surrounding the inauguration. Others have asked, Why not contact Airbnb about this?
On the other side of the equation, some Airbnb hosts were frustrated by the company’s inaction in the days immediately following the insurgency. They had received messages from neighbors; they wanted to help. But they also didn’t want to lose income during a recession. On Monday, Airbnb posted a Capitol Security Plan outlining additional reviews and booking requirements for guests in the DC area. Beyond that, tenants had to decide for themselves whether to rent their properties.