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Is Airbnb Helping or Hurting Our Housing Crisis?

Dueling rallies yesterday at City Hall make opposing cases.

We’ve seen a lot of anti-tech protests in San Francisco lately, but here’s something new: Working class citizens rallying to save a tech site.

That was the scene at City Hall Tuesday, where dueling demonstrations spanned the range of opinion on Airbnb, the increasingly large—and controversial—short-term real estate rental site. After a morning rally of opponents—including former President of the Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin, housing activist Calvin Welch, and director of the SF Apartment Association Janan New—Airbnb itself organized a counter-rally of fifty or so people who said they benefited from renting out their apartments or houses. For many of them, it helps people bridge the cost of living gap in an increasingly unaffordable city.

As the Chronicle reported, a group of influential housing activists are proposing a measure that would restrict people from renting their rooms or apartments through sites like Airbnb. The initiative would severely limit short-term rentals with neighborhoods with commercial zoning, require permission from landlords and insurance agencies, and add incentives to neighbors who out hosts that bend the rules. Recently, Airbnb itself has come under fire for not paying taxes. Opponent Martin Kazinski, a Polish-born resident who’s been living here for over 30 years had strong words against the company: “Airbnb is taking advantage of us getting poorer. It’s the same thing that’s happening in the taxi industries with companies like Uber [...] Technology is not a license to suspend our rules.”

But Airbnb also drew plenty of support. Many of at the rally were supportive of Supervisor David Chiu’s proposal, which is far more lenient than the proposed ballot (the Supervisor didn't speak at the rally).

For Deborah Eller of Glen Park, Airbnb has enabled her make lifetime friends—and helps her pay her mortgage. “It creates a safer community, and also helped me afford a new bathroom and gave me more opportunities to visit my grandchildren,” Eller said.

“This initiative adds layers of red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks for anyone who wants to share their home,” said Peter K. “The insurance requirements alone are so onerous that it would deter most, if not all, homesharers.” (Many declined to give their last names, in part for fear of landlord action against them.)

Not only that, but it helps homeowners and renters alike pay their rent and mortgages. Airbnb does make a difference to people like Sylvie, a 50-year-old single mother and teacher whose Airbnb income pays for her Western Addition house tax. Tish Krone, a newly divorced and recently unemployed Airbnb host, rents out her Haight-Ashbury apartment, and said, "I cannot afford to stay here without Airbnb."

 

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