Prop F Divides Neighborhood Opinion

 

Anti Airbnb measure takes on opponent’s war chest

 

 

With the average price of a 1-bedroom at $3,400 and a 38-percent increase in evictions since 2010, the housing crisis in San Francisco is undeniable. Concerned citizens are pushing to enforce strict regulations on local tech giant Airbnb and similar sites with a new ballot measure this November, Proposition F.

 

Airbnb, a major player in the so-called sharing economy, connects homeowners acting as “hosts” with “guests” seeking short-term accommodation. The platform has served as a lucrative means for people to rent out their units or rooms at high rates for short amounts of time. In turn, some say this encourages them to push out existing tenants. An SF Chronicle investigation recently showed that Airbnb had 4,238 local hosts with 5,459 listings, while HomeAway/VRBO had approximately 1,000 listings and FlipKey had 359.

 

Prop F aims to curb the use of short-term, vacation-rentals. The measure was created by Share Better SF, a coalition of hotel unions, landowners, housing advocates and neighborhood groups to restrict the use of short-term rentals offered via online marketplaces.

 

If passed, Prop F will limit short-term rentals of a unit to 75 days per year regardless of whether or not the host resides in the unit. It also prohibits short-term rentals of in-law units. The existing law limits such rentals to 90 days a year if the host does not also reside at the property, but places no limits if the host does reside at the same property. The current law also requires hosts to register with the city, although few have actually done so.

 

Prop F would require hosts to submit quarterly reports on the number of days they live in the unit and the number of days the unit is rented. They must also pay a hotel tax and comply with building codes. Hosts must post a public sign that indicates home sharing occurs in their building. The initiative also allows interested parties to sue hosting platforms for violations.

 

Share Better SF canvassed across District 8 on September 26 to spread the word about what they feel are fair and reasonable regulations.

 

“Prop F puts stricter limitations on companies like Airbnb so that they don’t squeeze our housing stock, and it also acts to thwart landlords who evict tenants so they can turn their properties into de facto hotels,” activist and mayoral candidate Stuart Schuffman stated. “We can’t let multibillion dollar industries and corporations decide what our laws should be, because if we do, the laws will only favor them and their shareholders. And that’s how we, as citizens, lose what’s ours.”

 

But many homeowners in the Castro argue that Prop F is too extreme and invades their privacy.

 

“As a Castro resident and an employee of a nonprofit organization for the past four years, sharing my home while I’m on vacation or traveling for work has helped me be able to continue to afford to work at a nonprofit organization in San Francisco and get by,” Jesse H.N. said. “The nights I am away and share my home total around 90 nights per year. In addition to believing that 75 night per year cap is too restrictive, I am more concerned about the language surrounding lawsuits, in-law units and privacy.”

 

Mayor Ed Lee and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener also stand against Prop F. Wiener believes the measure will hurt many local residents who rely on income from renting out a room in their home.

 

“We absolutely need to crack down on abusive short term rentals where investors own units and rent them out as permanent hotels,” Wiener said. “That kind of behavior is illegal, it should be illegal, and we need to continue to increase enforcement. But, Prop F goes well beyond cracking down on abusive short-term rentals by also cracking down on regular San Franciscans who are just trying to make ends meet.”

 

Prop F has proven to be the most expensive measure on the ballot this year. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Share Better SF has raised over $200,000 towards the cause. Since July, it has received $89,312.58 in donations. The largest sum came from Unite Here, a union representing hotel workers threatened by the impact of short-term rentals, followed by the San Francisco Apartment Coalition.

 

Airbnb has currently spent $8 million dollars on their campaign against Prop F called San Francisco for Everyone. This amount may seem like pennies to a company valued at $25 billion dollars, and it may be cheaper than getting fined up to $1,000 per day by the city per any listing posted on its site that doesn’t comply with the regulations imposed by Prop F.

 

San Francisco for Everyone has run a series of television commercials claiming that neighbors will be suing each other if the measure passes. Prop F would allow all “interested parties,” (anyone living within 100 feet of a rented unit) to sue the host for potential violations of the new rules. The campaign has been effective so far. Airbnb told Forbes Magazine that support for Prop F has fallen from 45 percent in July to just 34 percent at the end of September.

 

With the polls just a month away, the battle is in full force. Airbnb is doing everything it can to make sure Prop F doesn’t go into effect, while the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and the San Francisco Tenants Union are hosting events to shame the company they are calling “AirbnReaper.”

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