Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry for being too expensive. Now two different companies with almost the same name (coincidentally) are trying to disrupt AirBnB because they say it allows racial discrimination

Noirbnb, founded by Ronnia Cherry and Stefan Grant, and Noirebnb, founded by Rohan Gilkes, both pre-launch, are platforms for travelers of color to find short-term rentals and for hosts of color to rent out their digs.

Noirbnb and Noirebnb are like the 2016 version of the Green Book, which was a travel guide first written in 1936 to help black people travel the country safely by offering tips on African-American-friendly restaurants, bathrooms, and hotels.

Cherry, Grant and Gilkes were influenced to start the two companies after multiple bad experiences using Airbnb. Cherry and Grant were staying at an Airbnb in Georgia when cops showed up with their guns drawn, according to Grant's Twitter profile. 

In a Medium essay, entrepreneur Rohan Gilkes wrote about how he was denied by a white host, saying the dates were not available anymore. Gilkes asked a white friend to try for the same dates and he was accepted.

A study out of Harvard found that people of color are discriminated against on Airbnb, both as hosts and guests. Researchers found that listings of non-black hosts earned roughly 12 percent more than black hosts with similarly rated apartments and properties. As for people looking for a place to stay, Benjamin Edelman, one of the coauthors of the study, found that people with names like Darnell and Rasheed were 16 percent less likely to be accepted as guests than people with names like Brad or Kristen.

One Airbnb user, Gregory Selden filed a lawsuit against Airbnb in May claiming the company is violating the Civil Rights Act after he was rejected by a host for, he alleges, the color of his skin. Andrew Nyombi, Selden's lawyer, is seeking class-action status for what he says are thousands of other people who have experienced discrimination on the site. Title II of the Civil Rights Act has outlawed discrimination in places of public accommodation like restaurants, public bathrooms, hotels, and stadiums. Nyombi told Bill Simmons' new website The Ringer that after years of infancy, the sharing economy has to deal with the problems that arise in a loosely regulated community.

"The sharing economy is growing up," Nyombi told The Ringer. "There are going to be serious questions as to how that affects minorities going forward. We intend on prevailing, and ensuring that being discriminated against while seeking accommodations stops."

Noirbnb's Cherry and Grant told New York Magazine that Airbnb flew them out to the company's San Francisco offices in November 2015, listened to their pitch, but didn't move on it. Cherry and Grant decided to go forward with their idea.

Airbnb is aware of the platform's discrimination problem, Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky said this week while at an engineering event OpenAir, Mashable reports.  A handful of hosts have been permanently banned for sending racist messages to people trying to rent properties. 

"As a starting point, we have policies in place that prohibit discrimination on our platform," David King, director of diversity at Airbnb writes in a blog post. "We prohibit content that promotes discrimination, bigotry, racism, hatred, harassment or harm against any individual or group, and we require all users to comply with local laws and regulations. We have removed hosts from our community who discriminate against guests because of their race or sexual orientation or other factors and we will continue to do so."

The founders of Noirbnb and Noirebnb say they are trying to launch the platforms to help minorities, people in the LGBT community and anyone else who has been discriminated against on Airbnb's $25 billion platform. 

"When I started getting all these emails from people--black people, trans people, gay people--who were all going through the same thing, I felt like I had an obligation to do something," Gilkes told New York Magazine.

Published on: Jun 10, 2016