Cynthia Mackey, a 56-year-old self-employed digital marketer, loves to talk about Airbnb. She laughs and smiles, growing excited as she talks about the joy that comes from opening up her home in Oakland’s Adams Point to a world of strangers.
Mackey started hosting for Airbnb, an online international marketplace for booking accommodations, in July, 2013. She purchased her 3-bedroom home 18 years ago with her brother. They used to rent out the basement in-law unit. But when her brother moved into it, and his room in the main house opened up, Mackey realized she needed another way to generate income, now that they were no longer renting out the basement. She also wanted to bolster her savings, given Oakland’s steadily rising cost of living.
Within ten days of putting the listing for her extra bedroom up on Airbnb, Mackey had her first booking.
More and more women in Oakland are becoming Airbnb hosts; according to company statistics, there are 12 times as many female hosts in Oakland today as there were in 2012. Currently, 62 percent of Oakland’s Airbnb hosts are women, compared to 54 percent in New York City, 53 percent in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, and 51 percent in Chicago. Since Airbnb’s 2008 launch, female hosts have earned over $10 billion.
Airbnb representatives say that one reason their service is attractive to older female homeowners is that they need a consistent stream of supplemental income. “The majority of senior women hosts are empty nesters who host to make ends meet,” said Jasmine Mora, Airbnb’s press secretary. “The average senior [woman] host earns just under $6,000 a year hosting on Airbnb, and for many of them hosting provides essential income that aids in their retirement.”
And even women who haven’t retired often need a second income stream. “As you age, the job prospects may lessen, but the property taxes sure don’t. The utilities sure don’t,” said Mackey. “It gives you a way to supplement Social Security or whatever you have coming in to take care of things or emergencies.”
Mackey calls hosting through Airbnb a “cash flow engine” for her business, especially when dealing with the majority of her clients who, she said, “don’t always pay in a timely way,” because they’re also dealing with the challenges of running small businesses. The additional income also helps her to support her 84-year-old mother, who is ill, and makes it easier to visit her father, who lives in Mississippi.
In November, 2016, Airbnb’s report “Home Sharing: A Powerful Option to Help Older Americans Stay in Their Homes” found that Americans’ median household income decreases by 25 percent by the time the owners reach age 65, compared to their income at ages 55-64. By age 75, their income will drop an additional 37 percent.
According to the report, the average American Airbnb host over the age of 65 annually earns $8,350 in supplemental income for a single listing.
Though the typical annual Airbnb income for Oakland’s female hosts is $5,510, Mackey said she makes double that. Last year, she said, her room was booked for three months straight, with only two days open during that 90-day period.
While company representatives didn’t have an answer for why so many hosts in Oakland are women, the city’s women do have a slight demographic edge in a few categories that might explain why more of them have an extra room to rent. In Oakland, 51.5 percent of the population is female and 42 percent of its residents are single. Of its 65 and over population, 56.8 percent are women, according to 2015 census data. According to the last full census in 2010, roughly 25 percent of single women in Oakland owned homes.
For hosts like Mackey, the answer just might be that hospitality comes naturally. “If you just want to collect a check—I’m not that kind of person—I’m not sure how that would work out,” she said.
Mackey is now classified as a “superhost”—someone who, according to Airbnb’s website, is an “experienced host who provide a shining example for other hosts, and extraordinary experiences for their guests.” Superhosts must have hosted over 10 trips, have 5-star reviews at least 80 percent of the time guests provide a review, maintain a 90 percent or higher response rate to inquiries and guests, and complete reservations without cancellations.
“I really like meeting people,” said Mackey. “I feel like I’m traveling when I don’t get to travel.” She said her guests are a mix of all types of people—international travelers, parents visiting their children in college, millennials, businessmen and women, and even domestic travelers in their 70’s and 80’s. Mackey partners with other Oakland hosts in her area for merchant walks to showcase local eateries, shops and businesses around Lake Merritt.
Her house, a three-story Craftsman style home, is three blocks from Perch Coffee House and just a couple more blocks away from the lake itself. Guests have full access to Mackey’s kitchen, backyard, washer and dryer, and living and dining rooms. The room features a queen size bed, futon, walk-in closet, and alcove with a desk and additional space for luggage.
On the bedside table, Mackey leaves a what she calls a “gratitude book to remind people to be thankful for their day.” Recently, a trio in town for a swing dancing competition left her this note: “Thank you for hosting us, Oakland is now on our map to visit again.” Mackey said she was initially surprised when she found that guests were using the book to write kind notes about her, but now finds that it’s one of the best touches her listing has to offer.
As she gets older, Mackey says she wants to continue to be able to hold onto her home, and to be able to travel abroad, mentioning a recent trip to Greece where she stayed in an Airbnb listing.
LaTonya Price, a single 50-year-old longshorewoman who works at the Port of Oakland, uses Airbnb to rent out an apartment unit within her Maxwell Park home, which is less than ten minutes from the Coliseum and Oracle Arena. She bought it in 2014 after saving for years.
“It was the proudest day of my life when I signed those papers and got my keys,” recalled Price. Born and raised in Oakland, Price said she’s aware that “there are so many people in Oakland that cannot get in Oakland” because of the competitive housing market.
Initially, Price said she was “really hesitant” about the idea of renting her apartment out to strangers, but decided to give it a try after discussing Airbnb with a neighbor who is also a host and had noticed that her extra unit had been sitting empty.
“I have not looked back,” said Price. “It’s just been wonderful. It helps me to not worry about my mortgage, it helps me to have peace of mind and it helps for me to be able to save for my grandson, who was born in 2014.” Price also said she makes more than the average annual earnings for Oakland’s women hosts, but did not disclose exactly how much.
Unlike Mackey, Price said it took a couple of months before she received her first booking, something she attributed to not knowing how to fully use the platform and market her listing at the time. A negative experience with her second guest, whom she described as “rude, obnoxious, mean and evil,” nearly made her stop hosting, but she was reassured by how thoroughly Airbnb staffers handled the situation after she called for support and provided screenshots of the texts between her and the guest.
“I think their resolution was excellent. I think their approach to everything was excellent. I appreciate the fast response,” said Price. “I appreciate the constant communication and letting me know what was going on. It turned out perfect.”
Bookings have been consistent ever since, she said. Price said using Airbnb allows her to have the flexibility of generating income while also being able to help her family by letting them stay in the apartment temporarily. “I may need it for a family member, and then I don’t have to worry about having someone in there permanently,” as she would if she leased the room to a renter, she said.
“Airbnb has really changed my life for the better,” said Price.