Synta Keeling shares her three-bedroom home in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7 almost year-round, providing convenient and affordable accommodations, and offering guests a new and authentic perspective on her city.
Despite being just a few Metro stops from Capitol Hill and close to national parks, Synta’s East of the River neighborhood has missed out on the economic opportunities brought to the rest of the city by tourism and traditional accommodations, like big hotels.
“I wanted the extra income – but it wouldn’t work because I was in an unfairly stigmatized area,” she explains. “People wanted to be in the center of the city and I had effectively given up.”
In early 2015, that changed when she learned about Airbnb from a cousin and signed up. Suddenly, visitors began pouring in. “In the past year, I’ve probably been alone for a week or two,” she says, “I’ve probably hosted 400-some-odd guests.”
To most visitors, Ward 7 doesn’t look like the rest of the District of Columbia . For one thing, it’s one of the few places in the city where residents still have enough space for front yards. For another, it’s 98 percent African-American – an observation many of Synta’s guests are very quick to make.
But for Synta, whether visitors are surprised, uncertain, or simply unfamiliar, their questions are a chance to share some of the neighborhood’s history, identity, and beauty, and provide a new perspective.
“I meet people from all over the world… hosting really destroys stereotypes,” she explains. “We all table our own prejudices – what I look for in anybody is that they’re open to giving it a shot.”
Often, these questions and comments are simple and brief, but sometimes, guests want more information and Synta is happy to help. Most recently, an Indian couple started a lengthy conversation about race, D.C., and the Indian caste system. They enjoyed it so much that they have since FaceTimed Synta from India.
“When you do Airbnb, you never know who you’re going to get or where you’re going to go,” says Synta. “It’s one of the few instances where you can have an intimate interaction with someone completely different from you and everything will be okay.”
For Synta, providing this authentic experience also stretches beyond her front door.
In Ward 7, the noticeable number of new visitors is providing a much-needed economic lifeline to families that have lived there for generations and Synta is happy to share local knowledge with guests.
To make sure they also explore all that the city has to offer, Synta gives tourist tips, leads guests around, and even provides three bikes to take anywhere. One guest in particular, a mayor from Holland, shared his interest in city planning, so Synta created a city bike tour that led him to America’s oldest open-air fish market at The Wharf.
More recently, Synta has taken an interest in becoming an Airbnb guest herself. With recent trips to England, Sweden, and Denmark and another big trip in the works, she’s embracing the same curiosity and desire to explore the world as the very guests she’s hosted.