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San Francisco is latest battleground for Airbnb

The city to vote on a measure to limit short-term rentals – which supporters say could free up needed housing

San Francisco is set to vote Tuesday on a ballot measure that would restrict short-term housing rentals in the city. The proposition is widely seen as a crackdown on Airbnb, which critics say has driven up housing prices in the city’s already expensive real estate market.

Proposition F would limit short-term rentals to 75 days a year and require companies that host such rentals — like Airbnb — to close listings that violate the limit.  

“The city has lost between 10,000 and 12,000 units of housing that have been converted to full-time tourist accommodations,” said Dale Carlson, co-founder of ShareBetterSF, an organization that supports the ballot measure. “Given that San Francisco is suffering through the worst housing crisis in more than 100 years, we think it’s important to do everything possible to get them back into the residential stock.”

Other supporters include U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the San Francisco Building and Trades Council, and the Affordable Housing Alliance. Among those opposing are Airbnb, the city’s Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Ed Lee and both the Democratic and Republican parties of San Francisco.

“The most disappointing part about Prop F is that it disingenuously asserts to address the housing crisis in San Francisco,” said Patrick Hannan, campaign manager for San Francisco for Everyone, No on F, a group that is sponsored with major funding from Airbnb, according to the San Francisco Ethics Commission. “It does not, cannot and will not do any such thing. Rents will not drop if Prop F is approved.”

San Francisco has long battled over its skyrocketing real estate prices, with some blaming its thriving tech industry for pushing out middle- and low-income families.

The city already has laws regulating short-term rentals, which allow residents to rent only their primary apartment and require that they live in their unit for three-quarters of the year. 

Airnb has come under fire in other cities as well. Last week, members of the New York City Council and an executive from Airbnb argued about proposed regulations and fines for the company, Politico reported.

New York City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal has accused the company of turning a blind eye to people who don’t follow the rules: “In San Francisco, they tried to do what Airbnb claimed would result in millions of tax revenue, because of everyone registering as the hosts that they were,” Rosenthal said. “The truth of the matter is 1 percent of those who rent out on Airbnb registered as a host.”

Rosenthal was referring to a claim by San Francisco's supporters of Proposition F that only a small fraction of actual Airbnb listings are registered with the city. 

Hannan of the group opposing the ballot initiative says that the city's new office for regulating short-term rentals was only opened in July and total compliance can't be expected in such a short period of time. 

The fight over Proposition F has drawn asymmetrical campaign contributions. The San Francisco Ethics Commission revealed that over $8,377,000 has been spent to oppose the law, while only $773,688 has been spent to support it.

With The Associated Press

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