Not many hotels lie east of the Anacostia River, and though accommodations are scarce, Airbnb helps people explore every corner of the District as residents of Anacostia open their homes to guests from all over the globe.
Airbnb hosts in the Southeast neighborhood of Anacostia joined a panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 47th Annual Legislative Conference to speak about how the home-sharing website was helping them “build community.”
Christina Washington, an Airbnb host in Ward 7, said she meets people from all over the world and she gets to change the narrative of her neighborhood, one guest at a time.
“One thing I love about Airbnb that I’ve always loved, is that I meet people from all over the world,” Washington said. “[People from] every continent in the world have stayed in my home, talked with me and my husband and played with my kids.”
She said her guests often tell her that they heard bad things about her Anacostia neighborhood and are often deterred from staying in the area.
“They say their Uber drivers tell them [Anacostia] is not a place you want to be,” Washington said.
Located east of the river, Anacostia has long been physically and economically cut off from the city’s growing prosperity. In one of the city’s poorest wards, the neighborhood often carries the label of being unsafe.
But Washington says by the time her guests leave, they find that their assumptions about Anacostia are dramatically off-base.
Synta Keeling, another Ward 7 Airbnb host, said when a group of young Black men approached her guests, a white British couple, at night, they were initially nervous, but were soon relieved to see that the group assumed they were Irish and wanted their input on the recent Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight.
“They said, ‘Hey do you think McGregor is going to win that fight?'” Keeling said. “All throughout their stay [in my neighborhood], people had been guiding them and noticing them in an effort to make they were going in the right way.”
She said the couple enjoyed their stay and would have nice things to say about the neighborhood when they returned home.
“They had this warm feeling [about their stay] and they said when they went back, [they] would tell people about how wonderful Washington was … particularly east of the river and that’s their narrative when they go back home and tell people about Washington, D.C. and I can’t tell you what that means to me as someone who is a resident here,” Keeling said.
Kadija Bangura, a communications and business support coordinator at Arch Development Corporation, a neighborhood-based nonprofit organization that focuses on the economic regeneration of the Anacostia neighborhood, said more people should “look across the river.”
She said aside from making friends with some of her guests, Airbnb has had economic benefits for herself as a host and surrounding businesses in her neighborhood.
Bangura said attractions such as the Anacostia Arts Center and its amenities, as well as other local businesses, help Anacostia residents build a neighborhood and participate in the massive economy generated by tourists each year in the city.