Airbnb Touts Political Power

Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Yesterday’s elections saw the defeat of Proposition F in San Francisco, which would have limited the number of nights Airbnb hosts could rent out rooms in the Bay Area city where it was founded. As cities have been trying to successfully regulate the popular vacation rental service, renters’ rights advocates have expressed concerns that the company has added to the growing urban problem of a lack of affordable housing.

Amid the S.F. victory, Airbnb held a press conference touting its popularity with city-dwellers, its political power, and what it says is the company’s pro-middle-class operations.

“Cities recognize where the world is going, right, they understand that you’re either going to go forward or you’re going to go backward,” Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of global policy and public affairs, said. “They understand that in a time of economic inequality, this is a question of whose side are you on: Do you want to be on the side of the middle class, or do you want to be opposed to the middle class?”

According to the New York Times, the company was keen to cast the proposition as a move by the hotel industry. Airbnb has often pointed to what it calls “home-sharing” as an important source of extra income for hosts. The Times also noted that, by the end of 2016, Airbnb wants to form 100 “clubs” of its hosts that will act as voting blocs similar to local unions.

Before the S.F. vote, Airbnb placed ads in city bus shelters highlighting its tax contribution to the city. The campaign was widely criticized for its tone, and the company issued a public apology.

Meanwhile, a newly elected supervisor in San Francisco yesterday hinted that the city wasn’t done with Airbnb.

“I think Airbnb would be well served to negotiate a workable, enforceable compromise [to curb] the most egregious excesses that result in the loss of permanent, affordable rental housing stock,” said Aaron Peskin, according to the Times.

Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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