Airbnb facing backlash in its hometown of San Francisco

On November 3, the city of San Francisco will vote on Airbnb's short-term home-sharing, with both opponents and supporters claiming they have the answer for the city's housing crisis. 

Robert Galbraith/Reuters/File
The skyline of San Francisco, California is framed by the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset in this 2008 file photo.

The popular traveler site Airbnb is facing opposition in its hometown.  

Proposition F on the Nov. 3 San Francisco ballot would require hosting companies, such as Airbnb, to limit short-term rentals by homeowners to only 75 days a year. This measure would represent a big change from the current system, where some homeowners are turning their properties into exclusively short-term rentals. 

In what used to be a win-win for landlords and vacationers, a shrinking housing market in San Francisco has since created tension between the home sharing site and local homeowners. 

“We have the worst housing crunch this city has suffered since the 1906 earthquake – we cannot build housing fast enough,” Dale Carlson, a San Francisco media consultant and author of the proposition, told The Wall Street Journal. “So to lose housing units for tourist accommodations – it is just insanity.”

But Airbnb also says they are serving San Francisco’s best interests by raising $12 million for the city in hotel taxes. Opponents of Proposition F also argue that homeowners ought to be at liberty to do what they want with their own property, and that Airbnb has actually helped them stay afloat in the expensive San Francisco area.

“This initiative, at the end of the day, is an attack on the middle class of San Francisco, who share their homes to help make ends meet,” Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of global policy and public affairs, told The Wall Street Journal. “Home-sharing in this city is a lifeline for thousands. 

Supporters of Mr. Carlson’s perspective say the online home-sharing process is removing much needed affordable housing options from the city. Average asking rent for a studio apartment in the city is $2,828 a month according to RealFacts, a real estate data company.

But those agreeing with Mr. Lehane and Airbnb, say short-term rentals provide homeowners with much needed income and more visitors to San Francisco contribute tourism revenue and tax dollars. According to Land Econ Group, Airbnb visitors  generated more than $460 million to the city alone.

“This is definitely a fight that representative of the anxiety that exists here due to an economy that’s been so dynamic,” Sam Lauter, a San Francisco lobbyist, told the Associated Press. 

To defend themselves against Proposition F supporters, Airbnb installed throughout the city ads that some characterized as "passive aggressive." But the company immediately got backlash from the public and even its own employees. Some examples of the ads include, “Dear Recreation and Parks, We hope some of the $12 million in hotel taxes keeps this park clean. Love, Airbnb,” and “Dear Public Works, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to build a bike lane here. Love, Airbnb.”

After the criticism Airbnb received, the company has been issuing incessant apologies. “The intent was to show the hotel tax contribution from our hosts and guests, which is roughly $1 million per month,” Christopher Nulty, the company’s spokesman, said in a statement. “It was the wrong tone and we apologize to anyone who was offended. These ads are being taking down immediately.”

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