San Francisco Defeats Curbs on Airbnb, Luxury Development

San Francisco’s Mission District. Photo by Steven Wishnia.San Francisco voters approved four of six proposals on the Nov. 3 ballot intended to ease the city’s rent crisis, but defeated measures to restrict Airbnb-style short-term rentals and put a moratorium on building luxury housing in the Mission District. They passed a $310 million housing bond issue and inclusionary-zoning rules for developing city-owned land, by an almost 3–1 margin.

Proposition F, which would have required hosts of Airbnb-style short-term rentals to register with the city, pay taxes, and not rent their homes for more than 75 days a year, drew the most controversy. Airbnb, which has about 6,000 listings in the city, put over $8 million into the campaign to defeat it, outspending supporters—most prominently the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 2—by more than 20 to 1. 

“The problem is that an estimated 94 percent of hosts on Airbnb are not registered with the city and are thus able to evade taxes and regulation,” the Mission neighborhood newspaper El Tecolote editorialized. “There is a direct correlation with higher eviction rates and an increase in units available on Airbnb and other hosting platforms.” Airbnb ads claimed that the measure would erode the right to share houses and would encourage people to spy on their neighbors. It lost by 13,500 votes, with 45 percent of the electorate supporting it.

Proposition I, which would have put an 18-month moratorium on market-rate development in the gentrification-beleaguered Mission, lost by a slightly larger margin. “The status quo—$6,000 to $9,000 for new ‘market rate’ two-bedroom apartments, and a $3,200 median rent for an existing one-bedroom—is destroying the Mission District, one of the most vital neighborhoods in San Francisco,” the Save the Mission group argued. Longtime housing activist J. Scott Weaver wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that in the last 10 years, only 151 affordable units had been built in the area, which is historically Latino but has been gentrified dramatically by the tech boom downtown and commuters to Silicon Valley.

The Proposition A bond issue, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, will split $310 million among building and rehabilitating low-income housing, affordable housing in the Mission, repairing public housing, and aid to teachers and middle-income residents. Proposition K, the inclusionary-zoning law, will require that 33 percent of housing built on surplus city land be affordable to low-income and middle-class people; the current law requires that 12 percent go to people making up to $45,000 a year. It raises that income limit significantly while expanding the affordability mandate: 15 percent must go to people earning $42,000 or less, and 18 percent to those earning $113,000 or less. 

The voters also approved the 1,950-unit Mission Rock development on the waterfront, allowing it to be built taller than zoning limits in exchange for including 33 to 40 percent low- and middle-income apartments. “This will set a precedent for future developers who balk at affordable housing requirements claiming it doesn’t ‘pencil out,’” the San Francisco Tenants Union said. They also passed Proposition J, which would create a city fund to help “legacy businesses” considered important to their neighborhoods, with property owners getting a subsidy if they give these small businesses and nonprofits 10-year leases.

Mayor Ed Lee, heavily funded by Airbnb, easily won re-election, garnering 57 percent of the vote against a handful of little-known opponents. Mission community activist Francisco Herrera finished a distant second, with 15 percent. The San Francisco Tenants Union urged pro-tenant voters to support Herrera, third-place candidate Amy Farah Weiss, or Reed Martin, who was sixth. It may end up as a symbolic vote,” the group said, “but do not give the mayor a pass on his anti-tenant program.”