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Airbnb Estimates San Francisco Will Lose $58 Million if Ballot Measure Passes

The proposed ballot intiative will go to a vote in November.


The city of San Francisco will lose $58 million in tax revenue over the next decade if it passes a controversial measure to limit Airbnb listings to 75 days, according to an Airbnb study. The home-sharing company analyzed its own listing data to draw that conclusion, clearly in the hopes of swaying voters in its favor.

The proposed ballot initiative capping rental lengths will go to a vote in November, and its organizers say it’s the first time in California a home-sharing regulation will be voted on directly by the people as opposed to their elected representatives.

“Home sharing is an economic lifeline for thousands of San Franciscans who depend on the extra income to stay in their homes,” an Airbnb spokesperson said. “This ballot initiative would make it even harder for middle class families to stay in San Francisco and pay the bills.”

In addition to limiting all Airbnb rentals to 75 days regardless of whether the host is present, the ballot also bans the renting of in-law units, which are apartments attached to homes but having separate entryways. The proposition also allows city residents to sue each other for illegal Airbnb rentals.

“The city’s record of enforcement on these issues is pathetic,” Dale Carlson, one of the ballot’s organizers, told Re/code. “People ought to have the right to defend their own right to privacy.”

There’s a debate to be had over what brings more economic value to the city: Airbnb rentals, via the hotel tax they pay and tourism spending, or permanent residents who frequent mom-and-pop shops. When asked his opinion on Airbnb’s $58 million estimate, Carlson scoffed. “The economic activity that keeps the city vibrant and the neighborhood lively is not the sort of activity frequented by tourists,” he said. “Long-term residents go to the neighborhood dry cleaner. They go to neighborhood businesses that don’t cater to tourists.”

In May the city’s Office of Economic Analysis conducted a study and concluded that the cost to the city’s economy for every home converted to a short-term rental unit would be $250,000 to $300,000 per year, exceeding the economic benefit from visitor spending, host income, and hotel tax.

For SF Supervisor Scott Wiener, the ballot’s economic impact worries him less than its behavioral result. “This ballot measure goes too far,” he told Re/code. “It will hurt many San Francisco residents who host short term renters in their homes in order to make ends meet.”

It’s difficult to know how many Airbnb apartments in the city are rented as full-time illegal hotels, since Airbnb won’t release its internal data. The SF Chronicle recently scraped Airbnb’s website and found that of the site’s 5,459 listings, only 6.4 percent appeared to be full-time, illegal hotels composed of entire housing units.

Carlson was quick to point out that that number doesn’t include units appearing on other sharing sites like HomeAway and VRBO.

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