[Photo of homes in Englewood by Samuel A. Love via creative commons license. ]
Related story: Do Chicago Airbnb Hosts Need a License to Rent? Answer: Probably
Chicago police told Airbnb host Annie W. she shouldn't rent rooms to white people because of safety concerns in her Englewood neighborhood, just south of downtown.
"This is a very dangerous neighborhood," a Chicago police officer told Annie, who recorded the incident and posted it to YouTube [ see our related story ]. "You're running a business which is gonna draw international people to this location. They have to be safeguarded. Something nasty could happen here. Most of all, it embarrasses the City of Chicago."
The most dangerous neighborhood in the entire country is Chicago's Near West Side, according to a 2010 Neighborhood Scout report. The list, which is based on FBI data, did not mention Englewood.
However, the Englewood District had the 6th highest number of violent crimes reported in the city between January and July 2011 according to police data (Englewood is district 7). In that time span, more than 4K criminal incidents were reported in the predominantly African American district. These include 37 reported murders -- the most in Chicago -- 57 criminal sexual assaults and more than 565 robberies.
The Near North Side, which is north of downtown and generally considered "nice," had more than 4.5K reported criminal incidents in the same time period. These include two reported murders, 20 criminal sexual assaults and 271 robberies.
In the video, Annie questions the officer's assessment of the neighborhood, pointing out that the city recently built the $10M Kennedy-King College in the neighborhood, which prompted her to question what message the city is trying to send.
"Is this a safe area? Or is it still a really dangerous area?" Annie asked on the video. "Because if you are telling us it is safe in one aspect that we can bring new business and then yet when they come here or anybody, whether Spanish, black or white, and it's not safe for them to walk down the streets...So you saying you want to turn the community, yet you don't want to turn the community because you still scaring the white folks."
The officer started to explain that they were simply conducting "business" before Annie interrupted him. One unidentified officer later said, "They got their information and they came in there and said f*** that. I'm not telling them what they can do, they can do whatever they want and they don't want to stay here."
Annie then cited the positive reviews she has received from the 40+ people who have stayed at her house using the Airbnb service.
"I've got reviews online to prove that they were very happy with the neighbors, the people in the area, the people of color, and you make it seem so racist," she said.
A review from Airbnb guest Christine K., an Asian woman studying for her master's in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, needed a cheap place to stay when she missed her connecting flight in Chicago. She mentions the neighborhood's roughness but was overall pleased.
"When I got off the bus at Racine, I could tell I was in a rougher neighborhood and felt like a target as I was walking down the dimly lit street with my suitcase and backpack," Christine wrote of her first impression [ see screen shot below ].
Christine continued, "To my surprise, one of her neighbors pointed at Annie's house and said that was the place I was looking for. I was confused because he had never seen me before and didn't know who I was. But when I rang the bell and stepped into her home, I understood why her neighbor knew I was heading for Annie's. I was warmly greeted by the hostess and about 5 other people, all of us clearly travelers from different places in the world."
Annie gave Christine a positive review as well: "Although Christine was here for one night, all of the guest took to her instantly. She's very mild, soft spoken but interactive as well. Upon her departure she left a very nice note to everyone which everyone read! hehehe So thank you! She's always welcome back!"
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