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Airbnb's hidden impact on San Francisco
June 23, 2014 12:28 PM   Subscribe


 
As far as I can tell the entire point of the modern SV business model is to find ways to use websites and smartphones to pretend business regulations don't exist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:29 PM on June 23 [87 favorites]


I love the fact that Airenvy exists.

"Let's like, demolish Airbnb"
posted by sparklemotion at 12:33 PM on June 23




Without data on how many of those places are available year-round, this is meaningless. If you own a place in SF that you live in 6 months of the year, making it available on AirBnB has no impact at all on the total housing stock in the city. If you shut down AirBnB all you do is have that place sitting empty half a year--it's taking affordable temporary housing off the market, not adding to the supply of permanent homes.
posted by yoink at 12:39 PM on June 23 [23 favorites]


Maybe this is a dumb question, buy why is there such a housing shortage?
posted by josher71 at 12:40 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


As far as I can tell the entire point of the modern SV business model is to find ways to use websites and smartphones to pretend business regulations don't exist.

And to force existing businesses to lower their out-of-control prices. And to make regulators look at some of those business regulations to see if they're still relevant in today's society.
posted by Melismata at 12:41 PM on June 23 [15 favorites]


A long time ago I thought up DespairBnB.com and bought the domain name; think of it as the Regretsy of lodging. But as AirBnB goes upscale, will the availability of awful photos decline?
posted by carmicha at 12:41 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]


Without data on how many of those places are available year-round, this is meaningless. If you own a place in SF that you live in 6 months of the year, making it available on AirBnB has no impact at all on the total housing stock in the city.

Same too if you're like my friends here in Brooklyn - they have their apartment on AirBnB as a "rent the whole apartment" thing - but it's not a place they own and it sits empty the rest of the time; they own a cabin in the Catskills, and if someone calls asking about the Brooklyn place, they move up to the Catskills for the week. If the cabin's also occupied, they camp. But either way, that's their permanent residence.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:42 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Maybe this is a dumb question, buy why is there such a housing shortage?
- Only so much space (7x7 square miles)
- Techies with lotsa money driving up the rent prices
- NIMBYs protecting "their" neighborhoods
- Poor planning on the part of city gov't.
posted by slater at 12:43 PM on June 23 [18 favorites]


As a New Yorker, I hate even the idea of AirBnB. It's creepy that complete strangers would be wandering my apartment building who aren't authorized to be there. I'd be one of those neighbors calling the cops.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:44 PM on June 23 [16 favorites]


Maybe this is a dumb question, buy why is there such a housing shortage?

Because many more people want to live in San Francisco then can fit in the small space it occupies and it is very difficult if not impossible to build higher density housing.
posted by Justinian at 12:44 PM on June 23


> It's creepy that complete strangers would be wandering my apartment building who aren't authorized to be there.

Your complex doesn't allow you to have guests in your apartment? Like, what if you want to have a movie night, or your friend from out of town is visiting? You have to do it somewhere else?
posted by brenton at 12:45 PM on June 23 [16 favorites]


It's creepy that complete strangers would be wandering my apartment building who aren't authorized to be there.

But... they are authorized to be there, by their hosts. Are you also creeped out when a neighbor has a college buddy crash with them for a night?
posted by Asparagus at 12:47 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]


Your complex doesn't allow you to have guests in your apartment?

Guests while I'm there, yes. While I'm not, no.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:47 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


Or if one of your neighbors brings home someone from the bar for a one-night stand?
posted by Asparagus at 12:48 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Dear San Francisco-Area Writers and Bloggers,

I've got bad news for you. Whether or not it's fair, or just, or even legal (and it may well not be any of those things..) if the market situation is such that property owners would rather deal with transient strangers and pay a middleman for the privilege than lease to you, you are screwed in any reasonably foreseeable scenario. Things are not going to get better until either demand lessens or incredible (and highly unlikely) amounts of new housing are added to the market, something which is very difficult to do under current conditions.

5,000 units is rounding error compared the the real discrepancy between demand and supply and this remains true no matter how many indignant articles you write about the situation. AirBnB is a symptom, not the disease.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:48 PM on June 23 [41 favorites]


pretty big difference between someone having guests and someone renting out their apartment and not being there.

Its also very different from a friend loaning their place out to someone they know personally.
posted by JPD at 12:49 PM on June 23 [18 favorites]


Subterranean sleeping chambers. It's the only answer.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:50 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Doesn't AirBnB have a rating system to prevent shady characters/activities? Not that it is a perfect system, but it has some safety measures.
posted by Twain Device at 12:51 PM on June 23


Here's a big huge article explaining the craziness of SF's housing market and why there's an extreme shortage: http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/14/sf-housing/

tl;dr: what slater said.
posted by ztdavis at 12:51 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


I glad I don't live in San Francisco.
posted by josher71 at 12:53 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


And to force existing businesses to lower their out-of-control prices. And to make regulators look at some of those business regulations to see if they're still relevant in today's society.

You can't plausibly claim that "businesses" have "out-of-control" prices without reference to specific data, especially when the rate of inflation is historically low. And trying to trigger regulators to re-evaluate regulations by ignoring them and forcing an enforcement action, while repeating the same problems that triggered the regulations in the first place... well, that suits the techno-libertarian mindset very well, but I would hope we could do better at more deliberately fostering an environment of business innovation than acting out the self-serving rationalizations of self-proclaimed "disrupters".

It's telling that in the area where SV companies are most vulnerable to 'enforcement', which is PR and public shaming over hot button social issues, those same companies are quite quick to race for the same non-disruptive solutions that everyone else already thought of: diversity programs, sensitivity training, proper HR procedures, and not having a CEO massively antagonistic to a core constituency. Disrupting actual business regulations seems more viable only because the lag time on suffering the consequences is much greater.
posted by fatbird at 12:54 PM on June 23 [11 favorites]


> pretty big difference between someone having guests and someone renting out their apartment and not being there.

Every time I've stayed somewhere on Airbnb, the host has been there, spent time getting to know us, and usually they offer us food. I realize they're not all like this, but I'd always thought that was the majority.
posted by brenton at 12:54 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


If this is making you mad, you may have just discovered you don't like capitalism very much.
posted by the jam at 12:55 PM on June 23 [13 favorites]


5,000 units is rounding error compared the the real discrepancy between demand and supply

It actually probably isn't. Its 10% of annual home sales in the entire MSA of which SF is 20% of the population.
posted by JPD at 12:55 PM on June 23


- Poor planning on the part of city gov't.

High real estate prices are a goal of all municipal governments in the bay area. Indeed for very many people in the bay area it is a single overarching goal. Anything which could possibly depress property values is immediately mercilessly destroyed.
posted by bukvich at 12:56 PM on June 23 [6 favorites]


Every time I've stayed somewhere on Airbnb, the host has been there, spent time getting to know us, and usually they offer us food. I realize they're not all like this, but I'd always thought that was the majority.

I use AirBnB a reasonable amount. The only time I've even met the host in person was the one time I just took a room.
posted by JPD at 12:56 PM on June 23


pretty big difference between someone having guests and someone renting out their apartment and not being there.

I find this a pretty dubious proposition. If I'm planning on embarking on a crime wave, just about the stupidest possible way to start would be by renting a place in the very building I plan to target. I mean, talk about World's Dumbest Criminals material!

Still, this should be amenable to statistical analysis. Are buildings that have AirBnB rentals in them suffering more crimes than comparable ones? I'd lay odds that they're not; I think the crime deterrent effect of having more units occupied would almost certainly outweigh the "criminal renter" effect.
posted by yoink at 12:56 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Twain Device: that's basically the heart of the whole debate. Does a five start online rating system adequately replace consumer protection laws?

I love airbnb and Uber and have used both in multiple countries. I have friends that regularly rent out their apartments on airbnb. I am all for a sharing economy that whittles away at the monopolist and rent-seeking business models of hotels and taxis.

They are great, but they are very much operating in an ambiguous legal area right now. I think we'll figure it out, just like everyone giving up the wild badlands of Napster for the legal haven of iTunes.
posted by ztdavis at 12:57 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


What AirBnB does is take something that's illegal (in SF, acting as a hotel without permit or applying for something equivalent), provide a marketplace for people to contact each other, take a share of the profits, then do nothing to help those that face eviction or fines.

There's issues where rents are crazy because of severe restrictions and attitude towards development, a bunch of NIMBYism such as rent control for old tenants, and whatnot. So some people do this because they can't afford rent without not paying other bills. It's part of the reason why I don't want to move there even though I'm spending 75-90 minutes on a commute one-way.
posted by halifix at 12:58 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Awesome! I should find an AirBnB rental next time I stay in San Francisco, usually I just stay in Hostels because they're more flexible, but AirBnB sounds like the ethical choice.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:58 PM on June 23


This housing shortage is not AirBnB's fault. It is the fault of San Francisco voters.

Rabid NIMBYism and anti-development sentiments have made it very difficult to get any significant amount of housing built in SF.

In fact, there are polls (can't remember exactly where I saw them), showing SF citizens want more housing build by a very large margin, but they also don't want new housing near their homes by a very large margin. Brazenly NIMBY.

So what do you get? Demand for housing goes up, supply of housing does not, so prices go up.

If every single family home in SF was permitted to be raised to up to four stories and four units as of right, there would be no housing shortage. If the planning process was more like New York, where almost everything happens as-of-right, with minimal opportunity for NIMBY meddling, there would be no housing shortage.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:59 PM on June 23 [24 favorites]


> The only time I've even met the host in person was the one time I just took a room

Ah, that explains it. I have never rented an entire house--I always just do the room.
posted by brenton at 1:00 PM on June 23


( I ask as someone genuinely curious. AirBnB seems like a good idea, but I'll be the first to admit I only have the most basic of knowledge about it)
posted by Twain Device at 1:01 PM on June 23


NIMBYism is a very difficult thing to overcome. Even people who believe themselves to be against NIMBYism find themselves contorting themselves to rationalize opposition to development near their homes. I had to bite my tongue SO HARD at an AskMe a couple weeks ago where someone was like "I'm not a NIMBY person but..." and then went on to go full-on NIMBY about a proposed housing development nearby.

It is easy to say development needs to happen, it's much more difficult when that development is next door.
posted by Justinian at 1:01 PM on June 23 [7 favorites]


As a New Yorker, I hate even the idea of AirBnB. It's creepy that complete strangers would be wandering my apartment building who aren't authorized to be there. I'd be one of those neighbors calling the cops.

It's not like landlords check for sketch, either. The killer may already be inside the house, as it were.
posted by corb at 1:03 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


One reason for the housing crunch in San Francisco is the refusal to zone for high-density housing in Silicon Valley, where the communities insist on pretending that they are still suburbs.

A drive through the southern stretches of San Francisco will show you that there's ample space to build more housing. There are not just vacant lots, but entire vacant neighborhoods. What's missing is any kind of effective local government.
posted by idlewords at 1:03 PM on June 23 [19 favorites]


I have a love-hate relationship with AirBNB. Why they are still refusing to pay taxes, I have no idea and it seems like such a simple thing for them to do, and I totally understand that landlords and other shitty people are using it to profiteer off the bay area's messed up housing market at the expense of a lot of renters (of which I am one). Those people should face penalties and be shut down, no question.

However I freelance and travel a lot and renting my studio out is such a massive help to me. Not working = zero income, which manifests itself as gaps in my invoices 60ish days later. This makes paying for and planning travel, even just visiting my family for the holidays, extremely difficult. AirBNB is basically a way for me, as a struggling self employed person, to take a semi-paid vacation day. My neighbors/landlord are cool with it and I live alone, what I did pre-AirBNB was sublet to friends-of-friends or just let it sit empty. I'm not taking away from housing stock, and SF's housing shortage is a lot more intrinsic than one app.

I don't want to sound like I'm cheerleading the "sharing" economy or AirBNB because I have major problems with both, but some common sense regulations (like those proposed by David Chiu) would go along way. Of course the landlord/hotel lobbies counter proposal was for a public registry of hosts with a financial reward for neighbors to snitch on each other...
posted by bradbane at 1:03 PM on June 23 [9 favorites]


The original idea was a pretty good one. Folks with a spare room can rent it out. I don't think that's very problematic at all.

The reality is that it quickly morphed into VRBO with a much better interface and a self-selecting demographic. That becomes problematic. Lots of quasi hotels in most bigger cities.
posted by JPD at 1:03 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


With tourism booming in Iceland, a similar thing is happening in Reykjavik. Landlords have discovered that AirBnB and renting to tourists is so much more lucrative than renting to people who actually live in the city.
posted by selenized at 1:22 PM on June 23


wait, AirBnB doesn't include breakfast?

oh, now that's just false advertisement!
posted by el io at 1:31 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


People have been doing short-term sublets and house-swaps and so forth for, well, centuries. AirBnB and such like certainly make it easier, but it seems to me that the only clear "victims" here are the hotel industry; I think you'd need a lot more evidence that anything I've seen thus far to substantiate the claim that AirBnB actually results in a substantial loss of residential units from the general market.
posted by yoink at 1:33 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


oh, now that's just false advertisement!

Well, it's "air breakfast"--cognate with "air guitar."
posted by yoink at 1:33 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]


AirBnB and EBAB (a gay version out of Germany) have allowed me to travel to European capitals for the first time ... there's no way I could afford London, Paris, or Rome otherwise. So I'm biased; I think it's a great idea that has opened up travel opportunities to those of us who have aged out of the backpacker / hostel scene, are moderate income, and still have the travel bug.

However, I've only rented extra rooms in occupied apartments. I can see serious issues, though, if it's morphing into VRBO-type vacation rentals in American cities. That is the only time where I can see it having a significant impact on housing supply.
posted by kanewai at 1:37 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Is it simple to pay taxes? I have no idea, but as a potential lister on AirBNB it sounds like something that would be too much of a hassle paperwork-wise to bother with it at all. I'd assume I'd get on some list that had to regularly report or face penalties even if I just used AirBNB once, and I'd probably have to be open to unscheduled inspections. Maybe all that is ignorant of me; if it is, these munis should put up some very clear educational material that explains how simple it is to Paypal your $8 or whatever.

If AirBNB's the one paying the taxes that would be simpler for the renter, but I assume it would mean changing their service so that they rent from you and then sublet your room. Maybe a new class of taxes for intermediaries will be developed to solve this problem.
posted by michaelh at 1:40 PM on June 23


Maybe this is a dumb question, buy why is there such a housing shortage?

Basically, everyone wants to live in San Francisco but the people who live there don't want high-density housing anywhere near them. I found this article a pretty solid overview of it, even if it's TechCrunch.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:43 PM on June 23


London is also starting to get the same phenomenon. This isn't small fry, it's people with a lot of capital to buy up flats and get a premium for short term rentals. I can easily see this exacerbating the already dire London housing situation.

A flat in our building has been turned into a permanent airb&b hotel. We have troups of a dozen people in there regularly. They dump the trash outside the front door and generally act like, well, people who don't live here. I'm not nuts about it.
posted by Erasmouse at 1:48 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Is it simple to pay taxes? I have no idea, but as a potential lister on AirBNB it sounds like something that would be too much of a hassle paperwork-wise to bother with it at all.

I think taxes are only part of it. I believe that in some cities you'd also have to adhere to a different building code.

Of course there is a reason why hotels are regulated and why we've chosen to tax tourists. Its not entirely unfair.
posted by JPD at 1:49 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


but it seems to me that the only clear "victims" here are the hotel industry

When landlords are evicting flat-and building-fuls of tenants in favor of short-term tourists, then the victims are also people who would like to live in a place but can't find one to rent. Actively taking rental properties off the market (but still renting them, just not to people who are covered by any kind of landlord-tenant laws) adds to the shortage.

A drive through the southern stretches of San Francisco will show you that there's ample space to build more housing. There are not just vacant lots, but entire vacant neighborhoods.

Where are you thinking of, exactly?
posted by rtha at 1:51 PM on June 23 [6 favorites]


the first floor apartment in our building is on AirBnB. Other than smoking Italians and guests being confused by our admittedly stupid garbage area its been fine. But our landlord caught and evicted the old tenant - and yet just the other day I saw another pack of them moving in. It'll really suck for them when they come back from a night of drinking and see a sheriff's seal across the door.
posted by JPD at 1:52 PM on June 23


People have been doing short-term sublets and house-swaps and so forth for, well, centuries. AirBnB and such like certainly make it easier, but it seems to me that the only clear "victims" here are the hotel industry; I think you'd need a lot more evidence that anything I've seen thus far to substantiate the claim that AirBnB actually results in a substantial loss of residential units from the general market.

You should troll AirBnB in a few big expensive cities. I'd suggest you look for 2 beds and bigger taking the entire apartment. Look at a few of the calendars - its pretty clear what places are stealth hotels. The actually kind of have a look. like Dwell on the cheap or slightly better than Ikea. Its kind of amusing.

Renting a bedroom, a legit "I'm traveling, let me rent my place" - I don't think many people have issues with that.
posted by JPD at 1:55 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


wait, AirBnB doesn't include breakfast?

Some of them do. The place I stayed in this weekend did (the grits were fabulous).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:56 PM on June 23


When landlords are evicting flat-and building-fuls of tenants in favor of short-term tourists, then the victims are also people who would like to live in a place but can't find one to rent.

Do you have evidence that suggests that this is, in fact, a widespread phenomenon? Because the article linked in the FPP fails to demonstrate this and the analysis Erasmouse links to with regard to London faces many of the same problems as the one in the FPP.
posted by yoink at 1:56 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


I actually don't understand the purpose of extra-taxing tourists. I thought everyone (I mean, local governments mostly) was happy for tourists to come to their town and spend money there? I can't locate a rational for this.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:58 PM on June 23


My host in Albuquerque made me some terrible gluten free muffins. I would have preferred "air" breakfast.
posted by vespabelle at 1:59 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


Mrs. gurple and I are planning a trip back to the old SF stomping grounds this summer. We wanted to stay in the old Travelodge in the Mission, or at Inn on Castro, or at the Red Vic -- i.e., somewhere cheap and well-located.

Variously, those options are newly more pricey, booked up, and under renovation.

Airbnb is making our little trip possible. The place we're staying appears to be an occasional renter who'll vacate the unit while we're there, couchsurfing, himself. Because he's doing that, the airline we're going to fly on gets our airfare, and the restaurants and bars we'll go to get our food and beer money.

Win.

Unless he chops us up in our sleep, I guess.
posted by gurple at 2:01 PM on June 23


I actually don't understand the purpose of extra-taxing tourists. I thought everyone (I mean, local governments mostly) was happy for tourists to come to their town and spend money there? I can't locate a rational for this.

There are costs associated with tourists that can't be recouped just from higher business taxes.
posted by JPD at 2:02 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


I actually don't understand the purpose of extra-taxing tourists. I thought everyone (I mean, local governments mostly) was happy for tourists to come to their town and spend money there? I can't locate a rational for this.

Tourists don't vote and so are a convenient source of revenue without making any of your constituents mad.
posted by ghharr at 2:02 PM on June 23 [20 favorites]


Airbnb is making our little trip possible. The place we're staying appears to be an occasional renter who'll vacate the unit while we're there, couchsurfing, himself. Because he's doing that, the airline we're going to fly on gets our airfare, and the restaurants and bars we'll go to get our food and beer money.

supply-side economics ladies and gentleman
posted by JPD at 2:03 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Not to be dumb, but just what are these extra costs (on the city) associated with tourists? I really have no idea. "Convenient source of revenue" I totally understand though.
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:05 PM on June 23


You should troll AirBnB in a few big expensive cities. I'd suggest you look for 2 beds and bigger taking the entire apartment. Look at a few of the calendars - its pretty clear what places are stealth hotels. The actually kind of have a look. like Dwell on the cheap or slightly better than Ikea. Its kind of amusing

I don't doubt it; my point is, though, that this is not a new phenomenon. Renting an apartment in Paris or Rome for the summer or for part of the summer is not some astonishing, new, post-internet possibility. People were doing that in the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's etc. Some of those were "real" residences, some of them were investment properties, or what have you, that people were leery about potentially tying up with a lease, some were somewhat in-between. It was clunkier, sure, but there were agencies that kept lists of available apartments on their books and people listed them themselves in classified ads and so forth. To demonstrate that AirBnB really has pushed people out of housing you have to show that the old-school version of this PLUS the places that just sat empty are massively outnumbered by those being rented through AirBnB nowadays--and that the people making their places available through AirBnB nowadays would actually sell or rent them in the absence of AirBnB. Nothing linked so far in this thread is demonstrating these things.
posted by yoink at 2:06 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


AirBnB and EBAB (a gay version out of Germany) have allowed me to travel to European capitals for the first time ... there's no way I could afford London, Paris, or Rome otherwise. So I'm biased; I think it's a great idea that has opened up travel opportunities to those of us who have aged out of the backpacker / hostel scene, are moderate income, and still have the travel bug.

Back when I hosteled around Europe 5-6 years ago hostels were already renting out apartments and rooms in apartments. I particularly remember the gorgeous apartments I had in Budapest, which cost the same as a bunk bed in Norway.
posted by melissam at 2:06 PM on June 23


I actually don't understand the purpose of extra-taxing tourists.

Tourists don't get a chance to cast an angry vote against politicians who raise taxes on them.
posted by yoink at 2:07 PM on June 23


supply-side economics ladies and gentleman

Derision, ladies and gentlemen.

Is there a thing like Godwinning, but for Reagan?
posted by gurple at 2:08 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


bradbane: Why they are still refusing to pay taxes, I have no idea and it seems like such a simple thing for them to do ... However I freelance and travel a lot and renting my studio out is such a massive help to me.

Per AirBnb, you're responsible for your submitting your own taxes (link), seeing as you are the one providing the accommodation for money. You do remit all applicable taxes to your local government when you rent out your studio, right?

yoink: AirBnB and such like certainly make it easier, but it seems to me that the only clear "victims" here are the hotel industry

Hotels and the city budgets that depend on hotel taxes for a large chunk of revenue to provide services for citizens. For San Francisco, that's $300+ million per year or 7.5% of the entire general fund (link).

kiltedtaco: I actually don't understand the purpose of extra-taxing tourists. I thought everyone (I mean, local governments mostly) was happy for tourists to come to their town and spend money there? I can't locate a rational for this.

What double dipping? Tourists staying at a regular, regulated hotel pay the hotel room tax.
posted by nave at 2:08 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Do you have evidence that suggests that this is, in fact, a widespread phenomenon?

Just quoting from the article:

Airbnb had 4,798 properties listed in the city. Almost two-thirds — 2,984 — were entire houses or apartments.

I suppose it's possible that those apartments and buildings were completely tenant-free already, just sitting around, waiting for someone to make money off them. But numbers like that, combined with numbers like Ellis Act evictions in SF rising a ton in the last three years, combined with assuming that rental property owners aren't accidentally getting out of a very lucrative market when it hasn't even peaked yet...I don't have all the puzzle pieces. Neither do you. I'm making an educated guess and I live here, so I've seen a lot of the fallout close up. It sucks.
posted by rtha at 2:09 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


I actually don't understand the purpose of extra-taxing tourists. I thought everyone (I mean, local governments mostly) was happy for tourists to come to their town and spend money there? I can't locate a rational for this.

Free money. The idea is that no one makes a decision based on the hotel taxes since they're hidden -- either they want to visit, or they don't. It's true to a point for infrequent visitors, but regular visitors and convention organizers are wise to it and want to see that the city has spent the money well.

As someone with a front-row seat to watch a local manufacturing economy attempt to "transform" itself into a service economy, I can attest that lawmakers and tourism boards are mostly delusional people when it comes to rating the attractiveness of their city. Unfortunately, they never get direct feedback about why they don't actually get the traffic they think they deserve, so little changes.
posted by michaelh at 2:10 PM on June 23


Not to be dumb, but just what are these extra costs (on the city) associated with tourists?

The same costs as any other resident - police, fire, transit, etc. Basically, it's a form of property tax.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:13 PM on June 23


I can attest that lawmakers and tourism boards are mostly delusional people when it comes to rating the attractiveness of their city.

So true. They're convinced they're selling cocaine when in fact it's just baby powder.
posted by valkane at 2:17 PM on June 23


Right, but the hotel itself already pays property tax. (Which is why I called it extra-taxing tourists earlier.)
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:18 PM on June 23


In other recent oh-the-irony news, Pinterest is likely moving into new headquarters in SF, and in the process will be evicting a lot of small business that make or sell or distribute the kinds of items that Pinterest's users often like to pin.
posted by rtha at 2:26 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Except that the hotel's property tax doesn't cover the cost of the support of the guests in the building (and this is especially true in Prop 13 SF.) So I don't see where it's extra taxation of visitors.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:27 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


Derision, ladies and gentlemen.

Is there a thing like Godwinning, but for Reagan?


Its not godwinning when you are actually advocating invading Poland. You quite literally were advocating some supply side argument for AirBnB
posted by JPD at 2:47 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


You do remit all applicable taxes to your local government when you rent out your studio, right?

My SF accountant gets asked about this so much he already had a pre-written PDF document for me when I inquired, so yes. I doubt most people hosting are though. Why AirBNB simply won't write a few lines of code to do this automatically, I have no idea other than typical SV "pardon me while I disrupt you" bullshit. I guess they're working on it but their refusal from the beginning because they're such special little tech darlings pisses me off.

You should troll AirBnB in a few big expensive cities. I'd suggest you look for 2 beds and bigger taking the entire apartment. Look at a few of the calendars - its pretty clear what places are stealth hotels.

Yeah and AirBNB added the "Instant Book" option for these obvious abusers, but then claims they can't collect hotel taxes because the coding is too complicated or something...

Back when I hosteled around Europe 5-6 years ago hostels were already renting out apartments and rooms in apartments. I particularly remember the gorgeous apartments I had in Budapest, which cost the same as a bunk bed in Norway.

When I spent a month biking across Eastern Europe there were "apartmanis" for rent everywhere. Small efficiency apartments you could rent, typically a negotiable US$20-40ish/night. Most of them seemed to be run by retired people with extra rooms and they all had licenses hanging on the wall (and consistent pricing/star ratings). This was great because I often didn't know where I was ending for the day and couldn't afford a hotel, but I at least knew I could knock on some doors and some grandma would have a hot shower for me if options were limited.

It would be great if AirBNB could be a more efficient version of that, but they seem so intent on being assholes about it.
posted by bradbane at 2:58 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Some people may appear like full-time hosts of entire apartments because they have the flexibility to go stay with a significant other if someone rents their apartment. I know several people like this, and I've rented from people like this. I don't have a problem with that. It does bother me when landlords do this instead of renting (here in the East Bay, where backyard in-law units are common, this is happening more often. Someone I rented from in the past converted my old apartment into a full-time AirBnb place, and wouldn't rent to me when I was desperate for an apartment, because she can make several times more money that way).
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:59 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Subterranean sleeping chambers. It's the only answer.

I wonder about this sometimes but I don't think it would be a good idea. Most people don't want to live underground. People want pleasant views outside their windows. So your underground dwelling will be less desirable, and thus cheaper. Which means they'll be the recourse of the poorest people, who already struggle with being seen when they're living in the sunlight.

I dunno. It was probably a joke comment. It's a really interesting idea and would certainly help deal with space issues but I think the social trade off would be pretty bad.
posted by curious nu at 3:02 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Its not godwinning when you are actually advocating invading Poland. You quite literally were advocating some supply side argument for AirBnB

Well, yes, OK. I was arguing that enabling tourism brings in tourism money, which is beneficial to the economy. But you'll note that I tacitly acknowledged the two major concerns that have been raised against airbnb in this thread: I was talking specifically about the situation in which the owner vacates for a weekend, thus no housing displacement; and I mentioned the possibility that the airbnb renter might chop us up into little bits, acknowledging the need for regulation.

So, given that... are you saying that there isn't a benefit to the economy of enabling tourism? I'm not saying that that's the paramount concern, just that it's a thing.
posted by gurple at 3:06 PM on June 23


>If the planning process was more like New York, where almost everything happens as-of-right, with minimal opportunity for NIMBY meddling, there would be no housing shortage.

I don't understand this statement. My understanding of New York's housing market is that there is a perpetual shortage of housing there as well.
posted by GregorWill at 3:06 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Subterranean sleeping chambers. It's the only answer.

I don't think there's enough vampires to sustain the business model.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:07 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Most people don't want to live underground.

Corpses don't complain much, and when they do work themselves up enough to rattle their chains, nobody does boo about it, anyway.
posted by notyou at 3:12 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Someone I rented from in the past converted my old apartment into a full-time AirBnb place, and wouldn't rent to me when I was desperate for an apartment, because she can make several times more money that way).

I'm not in SF, but when I checked prices a while back a small apartment in my neighborhood rents for about $800/month; the same unit on airbnb goes for about $75 to $125/night. If you could get enough occupancy, you could make a lot more money doing the airbnb route. I'll bet that spread is a lot steeper in some places, too.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:35 PM on June 23


I love airbnb. It's how I managed to live in London for three months. I can't imagine living in a hotel that long. I wanted a proper kitchen! I rented a whole flat (with terrace!), and my host lived in the flat below me. I think he prefers to rent the place out to tourists because he wants to be able to use it for his own purposes from time to time, but perhaps it's just more financially prudent to have intermittents like me, I dunno. I'm grateful for it. His neighbours in the building didn't find me creepy, as far as I know. We chatted when I picked up my mail and things.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:56 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


relevant reads re: Maybe this is a dumb question, buy why is there such a housing shortage?:
- Mountain View stuck in past when it comes to housing policy
- Suburbs, not just S.F., need to address housing-jobs imbalance
- Firms make themselves at home in Bay Area housing
posted by gyusan at 4:17 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


His neighbours in the building didn't find me creepy, as far as I know.

Right, but a temporary lodger living upstairs from the owner of the apartment who is also currently in residence is very different from him just handing over the keys to a total stranger while he's not around.
posted by elizardbits at 4:33 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


I really want to like AirBNB. We're out of town for a total of about three weeks each year, not all at the same time. When we're gone, we rent out our place (a 600 square foot standalone house in one of the southern neighborhoods in San Francisco) through them. Before we bought this place, we used them to find would-be neighbors who had a room listing so we could spend the night and check out the neighborhood. It was excellent, and really affordable, and our hosts were great, and it made us feel really good about setting down our roots where we thought we wanted to. For Pride and the other gay festivals, we rent out our couch bed to out-of-towners who don't want to be shaken down by the city's hotel price gouging (which economists and housing activists don't seem to mind). We're part of a little social circle of gay dudes and ladies that have made this whole LGBT AirBNB thing a kind of agenda (there it is! the gay agenda is real!). We're almost all from tiny towns where $30K/year is a king's salary, so it feels really good and right to be able to say, hey, are you looking for an affordable place to stay while you're in town for Up Your Alley? Cool, come here, bring your dog, we'll have a (vegan) barbecue before heading to the festivities and by the way feel free to bring your dog because our oldest son would love to hang out with him at the house while you're enjoying yourself. That sort of thing.

It's been brilliant--we've met lovely people, stayed with previous visitors when passing through their towns, the whole nine yards. But even we can't deny that AirBNB has been increasingly giving in to the greedy compulsion to take advantage of the economic boom happening in the region. The numbers on hosts with multiple listings and so on only seem to rise and rise and I feel less and less like AirBNB is a helpful service for likeminded folks to avoid the faceless Hotel Empire Profit Sector instead of just being a New Face of the Same Old Villains.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:46 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]


I guess...but he hates the idea of airbnb, and that experience is also airbnb. Just adding a data point.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:47 PM on June 23


In general I don't have a problem with AirBnB. It should make good with the taxing authorities, but that seems to be on it's way to being ironed out. Working in sales tax, I would go a bit farther. AirBnB should handle the registration and taxes, Amazon laws give them nexus just about everywhere. The individual renters can handle their own occupancy licenses.

For San Francisco, it's literally extracting a considerable amount of rent from market protections meant to help those unable to afford the volatility of the market. It is illegal to use a rent-stabilized apartment as a pied-a-terre. It's illegal to sublet your place, or a portion there-of, for profit. The entire place should be no more than 1/30th of your monthly rent (plus cleaning expenses). Individual rooms should be similarly apportioned.

Sure, this sort of thing existed before the internet. But the internet should be transparent enough to make sure they aren't exploiting these kinds of government programs.
posted by politikitty at 4:50 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


"It's not like landlords check for sketch, either. The killer may already be inside the house, as it were."

I don't know about NY, but California (and I think broader), landlords do actually have liability for dangerous tenants — they're handled similarly to dangerous animals, where if the landlord knows or should have known that a tenant is dangerous, they assume contributory liability for harms caused by that bad tenant. This is often a better course than suing the tenant directly, since the landlord owns property that can be won, whereas many tenants don't have recoverable assets.

So, yes, in California, landlords have an incentive to check for sketch that AB&B renters don't.
posted by klangklangston at 7:07 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


"It would be great if AirBNB could be a more efficient version of that, but they seem so intent on being assholes about it."

Like many "disruptive" programs, AirBnB works fine when it's small, but as it scales the incentives for bad and exploitive actors increase, leading to the need for more regulation because AirBnB isn't going to fix the problem on their own.
posted by klangklangston at 7:09 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


Half the reason I'm moving back to NY from SF is the housing market and the lack of will to do anything about it. AirBnB isn't helping but it isn't the biggest problem either. My parents are sad I won't be in the same state any more (grew up outside LA), but both cities in California are worse-governed than NYC and less livable. And that's saying a lot.
posted by dame at 7:13 PM on June 23


As a traveler, I love AirBnB. The places I've stayed in were far more comfortable than hotels, precisely because they were homey, or even homes.

As a renter, I hate AirBnB, because it gives landlords and property owners a way to make money off of properties that would otherwise (mostly) be on the rental market. I mean, I don't care if someone shares a room now and then, but there are definitely businesses and owners running full-time hotels rather than just sharing their room while they're temporarily out of town.
posted by zippy at 7:24 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


"My parents are sad I won't be in the same state any more (grew up outside LA), but both cities in California are worse-governed than NYC and less livable. And that's saying a lot."

What makes NYC better governed than LA?
posted by klangklangston at 8:44 PM on June 23


yoink: I find this a pretty dubious proposition. If I'm planning on embarking on a crime wave, just about the stupidest possible way to start would be by renting a place in the very building I plan to target. I mean, talk about World's Dumbest Criminals material!

This is something i've kinda idly been trying to say since the airbnb backlash started. All of it is presented in a really tired shock journalism "would you want this next to YOU!?!" *DUNDUNDUN* MORE AT 11!" kind of way.

A lot of people a lot of places have stated from a position of certainty, and with an air of authority that it just objectively makes it less safe. I don't think it's unreasonable to, and it really makes me want to ask "So, ok, i'm not disbelieving you offhand but... can you show your work?"

And at that point, it usually devolves into something along the lines of "but there's more people! it's less safe! whargarbl!". I've lived in 125 unit apartment buildings where probably 2-3 times a week there was a moving truck out front. That was place was middle of the road safety wise for anywhere i've lived, actually probably trending towards the better than worse end. How is that different? They'd basically rent to anyone who had money and a pulse too. Me and my roommate didn't even have jobs at the time, just savings and stuff.

rtha: When landlords are evicting flat-and building-fuls of tenants in favor of short-term tourists, then the victims are also people who would like to live in a place but can't find one to rent.

As i said above, i'm not unwilling to believe this exists. I'd just like to see more evidence than some people really feel like it's happening.

bradbane: Yeah and AirBNB added the "Instant Book" option for these obvious abusers, but then claims they can't collect hotel taxes because the coding is too complicated or something...

I think this is a "it's not a bong, it's a waterpipe" thing. If they collect that tax, then they're tacitly admitting they're doing the hotel thing. And in a way, admitting that the people who actually own the properties are too. Do you really believe that tons of municipalities, state governments, and possibly even federal goverments wouldn't be chomping at the bit to lay the smackdown on them as soon as they admitted that?

As it is, it's well, a waterpipe. But as soon as they call it a bong, it's drug paraphernalia. I'm not an expert here, and i do agree that this makes them assholes and they're probably eventually going to get wrecked for tax evasion on this, but i see their "logic" in doing it that way.

I think that like the uber thing to an extent, people have a problem separating the fact that the company itself is run by and behaves like assholes from whether or not what they're doing is inherently wrong/bad/assholey/evil/whatever. I think, personally, that where they're crossing the line is in not doing anything to prevent the fake hotel people, and in fact arguably doing stuff to help them. If anything breaks them, that will probably be it. There's nothing inherently wrong with people doing stuff like what bradbane described above with his studio. It's when people never live in the place, and rent it/buy it solely to post on airbnb that it becomes a problem.

And i still don't really buy that having anyone do this at all in your building is some existential threat to personal safety. One or two people posting some horror story wouldn't sway me either. Regular, on the lease tenants in an apartment building have robbed my place, tried to kick my door in and assault me, etc.
posted by emptythought at 10:15 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Where are you thinking of, exactly?

Highway 1 and Highway 35 are just RIPE for high-density housing. Ripe. And. Ready.l
posted by happyroach at 11:13 PM on June 23


Most people don't want to live underground.

Given the same sort of undulating terrain as SF, the 17th century planners in Edinburgh's old town tried this - not an underground town like the Hittites but the more simple idea of just building over the hollows and then housing the poor in the buried zones. If people got ill then their street could just be walled up (no messy eviction processes) - and the resulting brouhaha would help to promote tourism in the form of ghost tours.
posted by rongorongo at 3:14 AM on June 24


Count me in as someone who loves AirBnB because it has enabled me to afford to stay in cities in Canada, US, and Europe where hotel prices were out of my league. So far every experience has been great, but I completely understand why people are unhappy with their business model.
posted by Kitteh at 4:33 AM on June 24


Maybe this is a dumb question, buy why is there such a housing shortage?

Survival needs (vis-à-vis climate change) and cultural attitudes about housing are changing much faster than the existing built environment can keep up.
posted by threeants at 5:14 AM on June 24


> As i said above, i'm not unwilling to believe this exists. I'd just like to see more evidence than some people really feel like it's happening.

Okay, well, as I quoted above, from the article: Airbnb had 4,798 properties listed in the city. Almost two-thirds — 2,984 — were entire houses or apartments.

That is rental stock in a very tight market that is not available to ordinary (i.e. sign-a-lease-for-a-year) tenants.
posted by rtha at 5:37 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I have found that hotels are expensive, doused in chemicals, and many have dubious employment practices. Conversely, I have had great experiences with airbnb, met some really nice, interesting people, and have been able to travel within my budget much more frequently.
posted by atlatl at 6:37 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


rtha: "Where are you thinking of, exactly?"

Pick some BART stations, start building tall buildings around them, and start planning to put a second tunnel through downtown SF (to eliminate the bottleneck). BART is the most criminally-underused transit system on the planet, and there's virtually no high-density development around the stations outside of the central city.

If you need a "how-to" guide, go look at how Arlington County, VA has added 75,000 residents since 1980. Virtually all of that new development centered around 5 Metro stations, and displaced virtually no existing residents or neighborhoods.
posted by schmod at 7:02 AM on June 24


Oh, a question - I swear I recently heard a radio ad in New York which was about AirBnB, and it was in the form of an interview with a woman who had been widowed a year and had a reduced income but hey, she could put the guest room up on AirBnB and it is helping her stay in her apartment she and her husband lived in for 20+ years so yay, or something like that. Has anyone else heard any similar "Yay AirBnB" ads?

I'm a fan because it's helped me stay in great affordable places as a traveler, and it's also helping some friends of mine stay financially solvent. They have both the cabin they own in the Catskills and the apartment they rent in Brooklyn listed; the cabin is right near a ski place so the cabin is really busy in winter. They're both artists/creatives, so money is often very tight from their professions in winter; and a lot of times the income from the winter helps them stay solvent through the winter until the theater/design gigs start back up in spring.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 AM on June 24


Basically, everyone wants to live in San Francisco but the people who live there don't want high-density housing anywhere near them.

Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:14 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


There are costs associated with tourists that can't be recouped just from higher business taxes.

I think you left out a minus sign somewhere. Tourism is a net benefit, not a net cost.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:23 AM on June 24


Too late to this thread, but I am quite fascinated by what AirBnB does to our neighborhood. Before we were a residential and very low-class community (not in SF) that never saw any tourists. We've always had good bars and cafés because many students live here, but never any visitors. Now the whole neighborhood including my building is seeming with tourists, and it's a good thing. Tourists bring income to our local businesses and they underline that we live in a very safe community.
I always like staying in more residential areas when I travel, so the whole concept of AirBnB appeals to me - I stayed at a very nice place in Italy through them.
But everyone needs to pay taxes. Of course.
posted by mumimor at 7:44 AM on June 24


Pick some BART stations, start building tall buildings around them, and start planning to put a second tunnel through downtown SF (to eliminate the bottleneck). BART is the most criminally-underused transit system on the planet, and there's virtually no high-density development around the stations outside of the central city.

There could definitely be a better job of making high-density infill housing around BART stations. It might depend on what you'd call outside "central city," though - me, I'd say anything past 24th St., and that is all of two stations that are in SF; the rest are in a different county and different municipalities. In SF, both Glen Park and Balboa Park stations are surrounded by streets with mostly small single- and two-family houses. I reckon there is room near those stations for (more) dense highrises, maybe? But I'm not so familiar with those neighborhoods.

Also, I Ctrl-f'd this thread and nobody's mentioned the added complication of seismic planning, which inevitably adds expense and time to building projects.

AND! The thing about adding another tunnel amuses me some. There's one being added right now (Muni, not BART), 3rd St to Chinatown and maybe in the future North Beach, and to go about two miles and have three stations, it's costing more than a billion dollars.
posted by rtha at 8:26 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Okay, well, as I quoted above, from the article: Airbnb had 4,798 properties listed in the city. Almost two-thirds — 2,984 — were entire houses or apartments.

That is rental stock in a very tight market that is not available to ordinary (i.e. sign-a-lease-for-a-year) tenants.


And as I pointed out at the top of this thread:
Without data on how many of those places are available year-round, this is meaningless. If you own a place in SF that you live in 6 months of the year, making it available on AirBnB has no impact at all on the total housing stock in the city. If you shut down AirBnB all you do is have that place sitting empty half a year--it's taking affordable temporary housing off the market, not adding to the supply of permanent homes.
The fact that you make an "entire house or apartment" available on AirBnB--even if it is offered for 365 days a year--does not prove that in the absence of AirBnB that dwelling would be made available on the rental market. We've seen lots of instances in this thread of people who genuinely own and live in places that they simply vacate when they get an AirBnB booking. Those people could well list their place as "available" 365 days a year, without that meaning that the place sits empty except for AirBnB patrons.

So no, the article linked in the FPP does not demonstrate--or even indicate--the extent to which AirBnB is removing dwellings from the SF rental marketplace.
posted by yoink at 8:32 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I'd be interested to see what the overlap is between: Entire apartments/houses for rent; multiple listings offered by one lister; frequent use (that would seem to preclude someone using it as their primary or sole residence); properties that have seen Ellis Act evictions in the last two years.

Maybe there isn't any. Maybe you're right and there's absolutely no loss of regular-rental housing. I hope you'd insist on data either way.
posted by rtha at 8:48 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Maybe there isn't any. Maybe you're right and there's absolutely no loss of regular-rental housing. I hope you'd insist on data either way.

I really don't know what you mean by "either way," rtha. I'm "insisting on data" in order to find out what is actually going on. So far we don't know what "way" things have gone because the analyses that have been performed are hopelessly inadequate. The demand for data precedes the discovery of which "way" things are going.
posted by yoink at 8:55 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


"The fact that you make an "entire house or apartment" available on AirBnB--even if it is offered for 365 days a year--does not prove that in the absence of AirBnB that dwelling would be made available on the rental market."

You're right that it doesn't prove it, but it's asinine to pretend that it doesn't strongly imply it.

The way to demonstrate it would be checking to see how long and often AirBnB properties are listed, and they found that 307 had enough reviews to imply that they were consistently AirBnB rentals.

You can argue, then, that this doesn't prove that they were primarily AirBnB rentals, but at a certain point you have to be able to make the reasonable inference that AirBnB commerce isn't sui generis and that it functions the same way that other markets and economic incentives do — since people can make more money renting these spots to tourists than they can to regular renters, people will rent to tourists and the properties are de facto off the housing market. Dismissing local anecdotes about that (since I don't believe you're in SF) would be fine if that was the only evidence pointing to the conclusion, but since it's part of a broader set of facts doing so does not support the goal of coming to the most reasonable conclusion.

Harping on a demand for proof while ignoring the clear inferences is pedantry, and does not give the appearance of a fair-minded assessment of the data.
posted by klangklangston at 9:30 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much advertising revenue the Chronicle thinks it loses through not having real estate listings that show up on AirBNB?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:27 PM on June 24


Cost of tourists? I live in a beach neighborhood where tourists frequently visit. They use our roads, police services, parking, beaches, lifeguards and parks. They certainly spend money here, but there are direct costs and hassles associated with them. I don't see a lot of locals trashing the beach, because it's our beach. After a big tourist weekend the "locals" surf break/beach is as clean as always; however, the beach used by tourists is trashed. The crime blotter is full of bar fight level stupidity. That costs the city in employee overtime and maintenance/repairs. Not all tourists are jerks, but those who are jerks are a costly nuisance. So yeah, tourism taxes make sense - not to rip off tourists, but to offset the direct costs to the city.

I think AirBnB solves a financial gap, but also an availability gap. When my prior neighborhood became trendy, AirBnB was the only way to get a room there. There were no hotels in that neighborhood. My neighbor decided to rent out her house for 1 or 2 weeks a month as a AirBnB. It didn't change anything about rental house availability for long term residents, but it gave tourist access to rooming in that area.

Also, I Ctrl-f'd this thread and nobody's mentioned the added complication of seismic planning, which inevitably adds expense and time to building projects.

Yeah. My husband is an engineer who does a fair amount of historical building reuse work. I used to point out empty buildings and ask why that building wasn't in use. He'd look at the side of the building and say "It doesn't meet the seismic standards - too expensive to retro fit." There are buildings available that we aren't using and that there's little financial incentive to incur the upfront costs to bring the building up to current standard.
posted by 26.2 at 3:08 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


whittles away at the monopolist and rent-seeking business models

rhetorically, this is the most hilarious pro-AirBnB statement it is possible to make. science.
posted by mwhybark at 6:58 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


"I have always thought of "airbnb" as the best way to figure out the minimum amount of money you would accept to let two strangers fuck in your bed"

(worth noting it's in response to a story about a unit purchased solely as an rental via airbnb property)
posted by 99_ at 7:16 PM on June 24


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