Community-based journalists also raising Airbnb’s issues in SF

Pub date August 7, 2013
SectionPolitics Blog

Mainstream media outlets in San Francisco may be slow to pick up on how Airbnb and other online home rental companies are violating local laws and dodging local taxes — the subject of our cover story this week — but both international and community-based journalists are paying attention to this growing problem.

The excellent bilingual newspaper El Tecolote covered some of the same ground we did in its cover story this week, “Unregulated Rental Business Takes Over Housing,” focused on how Airbnb is contributing to gentrification and displacement in the Mission District.

Reporter Jackson Ly found a couple that turned a rent-controlled apartment on 24th St. into a $249 per month de facto hotel room, booking it for 24 nights in August and making $5,976 in just one month, on top of the $3,069 they’re making in August renting out the guest room in the apartment where they actually live for $99 per night.

“It’s cheating the people that pay taxes,” Maria, who lives in the unit below this couple’s investment apartment and is tired of the rotating stream of tourists in her building, told the newspaper.

I got ahold of El Tecolote Managing Editor Iñaki Fdez. de Retana, who told me, “it seems like we’re on the same page,” noting the Guardian has also recently written about the prison hunger strike and some other issues that his paper has covered.

He said that housing issues like this one are extremely important to the Latino community that lives in the Mission, and he’s been surprised that Mayor Ed Lee has been unwilling to address the impacts of Airbnb and other tech community contributors to the problem.

“It is very important,” he told us, noting that visiting European tourists are changing the character of the neighborhood. “In particular on 24th Street, which was once seen as the heart of the Mission, it’s changing overnight and [Airbnb and other housing rental websites] is a big part of that.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for a substantive response from Airbnb to the issues that we and a handful of other journalists are raising. CEO Brian Chesky, who was an amateur competitive bodybuilder before founding Airbnb in 2008, would apparently rather flex his muscles than deal directly with the community where his company is based.