Airbnb Fighting Existential Battle in SF over Prop F

Airbnb Pride (Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr / CC)
Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr / CC
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Airbnb has opened up a double-digit lead in the polls against San Francisco’s Proposition F after helping to raise $8 million to defeat it.

Proposition F would restrict use of all non-hotel licensed private rentals in San Francisco–Airbnb’s home city– to only 75 nights per year. It would also prohibit the use of “in-law” units for short-term rentals, and enact regulations concerning privacy, peace, and quiet.

Prop F is a threat to the hosting-platform companies like Airbnb because it would force private rentals to pay the city’s 14 percent hotel tax, follow all city codes, provide detailed records of guest stays, and empower the city to collect $250 to $1,000 per day fines against renters and their Internet booking agents for non-compliance.

A poll in July by David Binder Research for the No on F side reported that 47 percent of voters intended to vote YES on Prop F and 45 percent said they would vote NO. But 90 days later, the opposition’s carpeting of the media appears to be turning back the local effort, with polls now showing the YES vote falling to 36 percent and the No vote up to 52 percent.

As Breitbart News’ reported in September, a coalition of Internet “hosting platforms” called “SF for Everyone” had raised more than $8 million with the intention of dominating every radio, TV, and social media outlet for the next eight weeks to rail away at Prop. F proponents as selfish and small-minded. Although Airbnb says it is only an arms-length contributor in opposing “F,” it donated at least $3.6 million to the effort.

The unusual coalition favoring Prop F, called Share Better SF, includes unions, landlords, neighborhood associations and housing activists. The only sizable check in the $200,117.04 they raised by the September 19 reporting deadline was $50,000 from the Unite Here Union, representing San Francisco hotel workers.

The average vacation rental nightly cost among all property types–entire homes, private rooms and shared rooms is $202, and the largest percentage are being offered in the poorest section of the town, known as the Mission District.

According to Bloomberg, San Francisco is the most expensive hotel market in the world, with average overnight rates of $397. Vacation rental offerings provide a 50 percent discount to hotels, and now control 20 percent of all San Francisco overnight rentals.

Housing has become the most important political issue in San Francisco. Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of public policy research company SPUR, told BallotPedia, “It’s the No. 1 issue in every poll.” There are five separate propositions on the San Francisco ballot for 2015 dealing with housing and urban development.