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At Code for America Summit, Brian Chesky Says the Haters Are Still Wrong About Airbnb

"People are hanging on to keep their homes, and that's why they're on Airbnb."

Code for America

If San Francisco passes the Proposition F ballot initiative next month, it will put Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in quite a bind. The move would open up Airbnb to costly litigation and limit the number of days per year that homes can be rented out.

Onstage for a friendly interview with Tim O’Reilly at the Code for America Summit this morning, Chesky offered an olive branch to the public-sector-heavy crowd assembled at the Marriott in downtown Oakland. Chesky stressed that Airbnb “has the same mission” as cities, and that the service has a positive economic impact in the communities where it operates.

“I sometimes read about the sharing economy, or whatever you want to call it, as if it’s a problem. I think that’s the wrong frame,” Chesky said. “[Airbnb] allows people in 60 seconds to become an entrepreneur … the equivalent of a 14 percent raise, the difference of someone being in the middle class.”

O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media and the Web 2.0 tech industry conference series, wore kid gloves for most of the interview, giving Chesky plenty of space to argue for why Airbnb’s home-sharing model is unfairly under attack.

“Is everything on Airbnb perfect? No way,” Chesky said. “We realized people were exploiting our platform in SF and NYC and buying apartments [to rent out]. We haven’t succeeded because of them, we’ve succeeded in spite of them.”

Across the bay from the interview’s Oakland location, San Franciscans are considering an anti-home-rental ballot initiative that Airbnb has said will cost San Francisco almost $60 million in tax revenue over the next decade. Airbnb is backing a group called SF for Everyone, which has already raised $8 million to fight Proposition F.

At today’s event, Chesky called the ballot initiative’s proponents “anti-affordable housing,” and pointed to people in depressed economies like Spain and Greece who are using the service to supplement their incomes.

“It’s pretty weird, because the original story of Airbnb is that we help hosts pay their rent. People are hanging on to keep their homes, and that’s why they’re on Airbnb.”

And why should Proposition F supporters and San Francisco residents trust Airbnb’s values? Partly because Airbnb wasn’t initially about making money.

“We created a company not because I wanted to be a successful entrepreneur and to make a bunch of money … I wouldn’t have started air beds for conferences around the country.”

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