Supporting the removal of racial covenants from property deeds

Today, Airbnb is announcing a donation to Mapping Segregation in Washington DC, a project dedicated to raising awareness of and mapping racial covenants and historically discriminatory housing practices in Washington, DC. Airbnb will also be sharing information with US Hosts on racial covenants, leveraging its platform to raise awareness of this issue across its community.

Racial covenants were provisions in property deeds that prohibited people of color and sometimes others, such as Jews or Asians, from owning or occupying the property.  Though the US Supreme Court ruled racial covenants unenforceable in 1948 — and they were formally outlawed by the Fair Housing Act in 1968 — these covenants persist today as painful relics of institutionalized discrimination and exclusion, memorialized on property deeds across the US. 

Many homeowners, including home buyers of color, are confronted with this unconscionable language for the first time during the escrow closing process. Unfortunately, removing racial covenants from deeds is not an easy undertaking, often requiring legal expertise, paperwork, money and time. Mapping properties with these covenants helps streamline and scale processes for their removal. 

“We are thrilled that Airbnb has chosen to support Mapping Segregation in Washington DC,” said the project’s co-directors, Mara Cherkasky and Sarah Shoenfeld. “Since 2014, Mapping Segregation in Washington DC has documented the historic role of racially restrictive covenants in shaping the nation’s capital. Racial covenants normalized residential segregation, severely limited Black Washingtonians’ ability to build wealth through property ownership, and artificially inflated or devalued real estate based on the racial composition of neighborhoods,” they explained. “The District of Columbia is an especially important place to carry out this work because our city was controlled by the federal government throughout the period when racial covenants were in force, and it served as a model for other jurisdictions.”

 “Airbnb’s donation will help us continue the work of mapping all properties in Washington, DC that had racial covenants,” they added. “Knowing the full extent of their coverage is essential for understanding the persistence to this day of housing inequity, segregation, and wealth inequality. Airbnb’s support is also evidence that the work we and others are doing to uncover this history is important for addressing the legacy of restrictive covenants and systemic racism. In addition, it will demonstrate to our city leaders why they, too, need to support this vital work.” 

Our commitment to help to eradicate racial covenants in the US is part of a larger effort to support underrepresented communities by providing pathways to ownership and entrepreneurship opportunities in the travel industry. We also know that the pandemic exacerbated the lack of access to affordable housing and the ability of many to pay rent, which is why we implemented our COVID-19 Renter Protection Policy last year — working with cities like Asheville, North Carolina to support tenants. 

We are also deeply committed to fighting discrimination on our own platform. All Airbnb Hosts and guests must attest to the Airbnb Community Commitment, which requires everyone who uses Airbnb to treat others without discrimination and with respect. We also changed the way we display profile photos to encourage more objective bookings. And to help us more effectively identify and work to eliminate disparities in how our community members experience Airbnb, we’ve also launched Project Lighthouse, a privacy-centric research methodology, in partnership with Color Of Change and guidance from civil rights and privacy experts.

While we have collectively taken steps to move forward, we have much, much more to do and will continue working with our Hosts and guests, and with civil rights leaders and collaborators to help make our communities more inclusive.