Airbnb: Bad For New York, Great For Me

We got back from Portland last night and I already had an email from Airbnb. It was brilliant, and I like to think inspired by Tinder. The email said my hosts had already reviewed me (as a guest, ostensibly as information for future, potential hosts), and that to read it, I had to review my host. It continued:

Hosts and guests have 14 days to share feedback from a trip. The reviews will only be public after both are completed, or at the end of the review period.

Between us, Dustin and I have used it a handful of times now but the last time I actually logged in to leave a review was in 2012, when the whole thing was more novel. In fact, when our baby was a newborn, we used Airbnb in Woodstock, New York, and when our car broke down the hosts let us stay another night. We talked all weekend about mailing them wine, coffee, babka, $100, etc. At the very least an amazing review for this couple who basically renewed our faith in humanity.

We forgot to even leave a rating.

But this time, I had to see what they said about me, duh. I left a review this morning, as soon as I was sitting at a computer. (They were very nice.) (It was a husband and wife duo, and the wife works at a bakery, and they brought over baked goods one night that we had for breakfast in the morning.) (I mean, come on.)

I guess like most things in this new disrupted world of ours, I think Airbnb is bad for New York, but when family is in town and needs a place to stay, that’s exactly where I send them. On her last visit, my mom stayed in a place one block from us for $60/night.

Which is a little bit like the fact that our house doesn’t use Amazon, and hasn’t for a few years now, but then I watched the pilot for Transparent the other day and fell in love with it, and signed up for a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime. No money has exchanged hands, and I have a reminder set in my phone to cancel it, but still I’m sure they benefit somehow. I had, to use the words of a reporter who just emailed me about a story, “queasy” feelings about using the ‘service economy’ to hire someone to clean our house. But still, I got my house cleaned for $30. [Then of course heard from Amanda and emailed Handy’s customer service to get my credit card info removed from their site — a thing you can’t do yourself, which is bullshit.]

I’m a hypocrite, I guess is what I’m saying.

When I was booking this Airbnb, I was surprised at checkout when I actually got charged $53 for “Occupancy Taxes” by the state of Oregon, the city of Portland, and Multnomah County. Of course my first reaction to being hit with that and the $51 service fee from Airbnb was “dammit.” $100 more than the total I had in my mind. “I support this in theory!” I chatted to Mike. “For other people!”

I was joking, and even though it was a little painful, it helped me feel less ‘queasy’. Or it does now, after the fact.

Portland, as it turns out, was both as rainy and as lovely and its reputation would have you imagine. I am happy to give them $53 for the pleasure of staying in a pink-walled mother-in-law suite of a bungalow on one of their tree-lined streets, where we walked through the gray morning to go to brunch at a totally uncrowded, reasonably-priced, amazing restaurant.

A month ago, Airbnb published a blog post with a bunch of PR stuff, but near the end they do say this:

…we believe that it makes sense for our community to pay occupancy tax, with limited exemptions for those who earn under certain thresholds. We would like to assist New York City in streamlining this process so that it is not onerous.

This is promising. Of course, the consumer will be the one to pay this tax, just like I paid for it in Portland. Yes I wish it came out of the Airbnb fee or even the host’s profits, but when stay at a hotel you pay the occupancy tax yourself, too. Staying in a private section of someone’s house is different, but it’s not that different. Next time my mom or dad or sister comes to stay in an apartment in the neighborhood, maybe they will cringe, too, at the extra charge. It’s still better than the $400/night hotel down the block. Better for my family that is. For New York, tax or no tax, I’m not so sure.

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