On a rare rainy Wednesday in San Francisco, a local woman named Theresa Flandrich took her turn at the microphone set up on the steps of city hall. She said she had been evicted from her home of 32 years in the historic North Beach neighborhood and placed blame on Airbnb for her trouble in finding another apartment to rent in the area, saying that too many units were being taken off the market so they could be rented to tourists on such home-sharing platforms.
“There are now tourists that are coming in and out all the time,” she said. “These used to be neighbors who lived here.” Airbnb, she claimed, is “destroying the very soul of the neighborhood.”
Such rhetoric, along with similarly emotional testimonies supporting home-sharing platforms that give locals revenue that helps keep them in their homes, has been constant in Bay Area political debates in recent years. A landmark law legalizing short-term rentals and setting up regulations for hosts went into effect in February, but those who believe Airbnb and the like are cannabilizing rental stock are pushing a proposition that would place stricter limits on rentals, banning them in certain types of housing and requiring hosts to report details about their rentals to the city. Airbnb has spent more than $8 million opposing the measure, Proposition F, airing ads like this before the November vote:
Inside City Hall, progressive local lawmaker David Campos was soon at a hearing grilling officials from the city who have been tasked with collecting hotel taxes from home-sharers and making sure that hosts are registered with the city, a requirement of the new law that only a fraction of home-sharers have followed. For what Campos estimated are up to 10,000 home-sharing listings, fewer than 700 hosts have gotten through that paperwork.
Several of those people appeared, however, to argue that the new law needed more time to work, saying that the revenue they earn from sharing their home is allowing them to keep up with their mortgage and stay in a city that is in the midst of a housing crisis. Proposition F, they said, would curtail that ability and end their crucial revenue stream. “I want to live in San Francisco for the rest of my life,” one man said, “and this could very well stop me from doing that.”
With insufficient housing stock, rental prices have shot through the roof and many low- and middle-income locals have had to leave the city. With some evidence that landlords have hoarded units to rent them out on platforms like Airbnb full-time, making more with nightly income from tourists than monthly income from locals, the wildly popular site has become a focus for some people’s ire, though economists have said that issues like San Francisco’s slowness to build more housing is a much bigger culprit.
The reporting of data about rentals, which Airbnb has resisted in an effort to protect users’ privacy, has been a central issue in these debates. On Tuesday, the city’s tax collector’s office announced that the company had agreed to what they believe to be the first instance of such data-sharing about who is hosting, for what price and how often.
The information allows the office to collect hotel taxes directly from Airbnb, giving them the details they need to double-check the math, and relieving hosts from what can be an onerous and confusing process. Amanda Fried, a policy and legislative manager in the office, said “it’s fair to say” the company only did this because of strict requirements the office has about keeping all the data confidential, much like the IRS will not share citizens’ tax information.
Also on Tuesday, the new office tasked with overseeing short-term rentals, defined as any rentals for 30 days or fewer, announced that they had collected roughly $155,000 in penalties from people who had violated the law, which prohibits, for example, people renting out anything other than a primary residence or renting out their home for more than 90 days per year when they are not present. Hosted rentals are currently unlimited, though Proposition F would limit all rental types to 75 days per year.
One supporter of the ballot measure took her turn at the hearing to say that the progress made in enforcement and tax collection was not enough, in a time when San Franciscans continue to struggle and companies like Airbnb are valued at more than $20 billion. “Time and good intentions,” she said, “cannot stop the avalanche of illegal removals from our housing stock.”
In an email to TIME, Airbnb said, “We are happy to work with governments to help the community pay their fair share of taxes. Prop. F is a misguided, divisive measure that would create financial incentive for neighbors to spy on one another, file frivolous lawsuits, and require San Franciscans to report where they sleep each night. We need to continue giving the current law, passed by the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors last year, time to work.”